China ZKZM 500 Laser Rifle Weapon
The ZKZM-500 consists on two important components- the laser (likely consisting of solid state lasers, usually fiber optics doped with rare earth materials), and its lithium battery, which account for most of its weight. Note the digital counter built into the stock, likely to display remaining battery power, or possibly to adjust the power level of each shot. ZKZM Laser

Chinese scientists have developed the world’s first destructive, man-portable laser weapon. However, there is more to the story of this cool looking, but “less than lethal” directed energy device.

cardboard burning from gunshots


Responding to media skepticism, ZKZM Laser released a video of the ZKZM-500 on a rooftop range, burning targets like this piece of cardboard, from at least a couple hundred feet away.

The laser rifle is the ZKZM-500, developed by Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics in Xian, Shaanxi. It’s manufactured by the Institute’s subsidiary, ZKZM Laser. Weighing at 6 pounds (about the weight of a typical assault rifle), the ZKZM-500 has a range of 2,600 feet. The ZKZM-500 uses a lithium battery with enough power for 1000 two second shots (keep in mind, those 1000 shots may not be at full power). According to Institute designers, its laser is powerful enough to instantly scar human skin and tissue. It can also ignite clothing, knock a small drone out of the sky, or even ignite a fuel tank. That would place its power output around 100-500 watts (most surgical lasers top out at 100 watts).

Two Chinese workers aiming a laser at an electrical pillar

Garbage Duty

Chinese utility workers aim a destructive laser to burn away some red colored fabric that got entangled with the powerlines (apparently none of China’s famous flamethrower quadcopters were available).

Official government state that the ZKZM-500 would be primarily used for crowd control by the People’s Armed Police. Akin to the US Active Denial System, the laser power could be adjusted to simply cause protesters intense pain instead of immolating them.However, a Beijing police officer told the South China Morning Post that destructive lasers were sadistic and counterproductive for crowd control.

China's Chengdu Hengan Laser rifle

Laser Submachine Gun?

The laser rifle offered by Chengdu Hengan Police Equipment Manufacturing Company to Chinese police forces has an effective range of only 150 meters, but claims that its batteries hold enough juice for 10,000 shots (though the 10,000 is unlikely to be the full power shots capable of igniting clothing and other flammables).

Chinese special forces might be more receptive customers of the ZKZM-500. Its laser beam is invisible and silent, making it a good choice to stealthily detonate enemy explosives and bombs. It can also take aim at fuel tanks on targets like enemy missile launchers, fuel depots, and taxiing aircraft. Its stealth characteristics also mean that the ZKZM-500 can quikcly disable enemy personnel, like hostage takers, or destroy CCTV cameras and other perimeter sensors. However, the ZKZM-500 isn’t powerful enough to replace sniper rifles for long distance shots.

solder pointing from the China laser rifle


Chinese special forces are likely to be the current users of Chinese blinding lasers. This WJG-2002, seen here at an arms expo, is an older model that may have not been fielded.

The ZKZM-500 has plenty of Chinese predecessors in directed energy weapons. Chinese police and soldiers have long been equipped with ‘dazzler’ laser rifles. These include PY132A, WGJ-2002 and BBQ-905, which are designed to target the optical imagers and sensors on enemy vehicles, aircraft and drones (sinceChina’s signed the United Nations Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which bans the use of laser weapons that cause permanent damage to human eyes). Improvements in power storage and laser efficiency, such as newer lithium batteries and solid-state lasers, are what have made the ZKZM-500 more powerful than its predecessors.

China Silent Hunter laser at Dubai IDEX 2017

Silent Hunter

The Silent Hunter laser is powerful enough to cut through light vehicle armor at up to a kilometer away, making you wonder if China already has more powerful laser weapons only for domestic use.

Other larger destructive Chinese lasers include the Low Altitude Guard II and Silent Hunter, the later which can burn through vehicle light armor from a kilometer away.

Deathtroopers from Star Wars

Still Science

The PLA is most likely not going to deploy augmented elite infantry with lasers to the South China Sea beaches any time soon, but as laser technology improves, even future infantry will have more powerful, and possibly lethal, directed energy weapons.

We are not in the world of Star Wars yet, but China’s work show that some of the imagined world of laser weapons may not stay science fiction forever.

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Peter Warren Singer is a strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He has been named by Defense News as one of the 100 most influential people in defense issues. He was also dubbed an official “Mad Scientist” for the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Jeffrey is a national security professional in the greater D.C. area. They both are Associates with the U.S. Air Force University’s China Aerospace Studies Institute.