Chinese researchers are working on a new handheld laser weapon capable of burning skin and clothing from up to half a mile away, according to its developers.
Boasts about the high-powered laser rifle’s capabilities come amid a diplomatic row between the US and China over the use of blinding lasers on military aircraft.
The new laser rifle will be used by anti-terrorism squads in the Chinese Armed Police, the South China Morning Post reports, with prototypes of the device already being tested at the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shaanxi province.
The ZKZM assault rifle causes “instant carbonisation” of human tissue, according to the researchers behind it, and will “burn through clothes in a split second. ” The unnamed researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences added: “If the fabric is flammable, the whole person will be set on fire.”
While the gun is not powerful enough to kill someone, the researcher said: “The pain will be beyond endurance.”
Potential scenarios in which the laser weapon might be deployed include hostage situations, whereby police could fire the laser through a window at targets without using lethal force.
Properties of the laser beam mean it is invisible to the naked eye, meaning the ZKZM rifle could also be used in covert operations.
According to the SCMP report, the 15 mm calibre weapon will weigh 3 kilograms and be around the same size as an AK-47 assault rifle.
Laser weapons have long been a staple of science fiction, however limitations with batteries mean that effective handheld guns have so far alluded researchers.
Aerospace and defence giant Lockheed Martin has previously developed laser beam systems that can be attached to planes or ground-based vehicles.
The advantage over traditional weapons like missiles is that lasers are silent, cheaper and cause less collateral damage.
In May, the Pentagon made a formal complaint to the Chinese government over Chinese nationals allegedly pointing lasers at US planes in east Africa.
While there has been no word on when China’s new laser gun might see service, the US Navy recently announced its own $300 million research fund aimed at creating a family of laser weapons for its fleet.