China's Portable Laser Gun: The Science Doesn't Add Up

Here are the reasons the futuristic weapon a Chinese company says it has developed are likely false.

In case you haven't seen it yet, a company in China claims they have developed a portable laser gun that can set things on fire and even burn human flesh at range.

China's ZKZM Laser company says they've built an AK 47-sized laser weapon that is capable of "instant carbonisation" of human skin and tissues, according to an article in the South China Morning Post.

The video above has been circulated to support those claims.

The company alleges that its ZKZM-500 laser assault rifle has a range of about a half-mile, but remains lightweight (about six and a half pounds) thanks to the lithium ion battery used to power it, with the charge being great enough for 1,000 shots.

A researcher that took part in the project told the South China Morning Post that although the weapon was classified as less lethal, it can "burn through clothes in a split second," and cause pain "beyond endurance." The article goes on to state that the laser is in an invisible wavelength and it produces no sound, making it undetectable.

Not surprisingly, many are skeptical of the alleged weapon. In fact, so many were suspicious of their claims that the company put out the video above “demonstrating” the laser assault rifle in use as a retort. But the video does little to alleviate those doubts. Despite purportedly creating breakthrough technology, the company seems to have taken the footage using a flip phone of mid-nineties vintage. It is filmed on a rooftop, not in a laboratory. And, to me at least, it just looks like a bad hoax.

A rendering of the purported Chinese laser gun.
A rendering of the purported Chinese laser gun.YouTube

For starters, it's hard to find a theoretical wavelength of laser that fits the report's laundry list of claims: that the beam is invisible, can pass through glass, can light clothes on fire, and can burn skin. Infrared lasers can light matches, for instance, but are simultaneously harmless to human skin. A laser that lives up to the hype would have to hit a tiny frequency sweet spot, one that's made even smaller by the Geneva Convention's prohibition of laser weapons that blind...

the laser is also suspect for its impossibly light and compact design. Assuming no sci-fi power source is involved, the batteries to power such a weapon would need to weight four or five times more than the entire gun's reported three kilogram weight. And as a cherry on top, the claims the gun could light gasoline on fire from a distance are suspect too. Lasers are notably awful at lighting fuel on fire, as Styropyro demonstrates:

Popular Mechanics cited youthful YouTuber styropyro's video debunking video:

In short, it’s nearly impossible to find one wavelength of light that can accomplish all the things ZKZM Laser says it does. As an example, infrared lasers are invisible to the naked eye and can ignite matches, but are not capable of burning skin. The laser gun is also impossibly light, with contemporary laser weapons without these characteristics being so large that they must be mounted to a vehicle or used in fixed installations.