China has reportedly developed a new laser weapon capable of hitting targets more than half a mile away.

Researchers involved in the project say the ZKZM-500 laser rifle can “burn through clothes in a split second” and cause “instant carbonization” of human skin, according to Stephen Chen of the South China Morning Post.

“If the fabric is flammable, the whole person will be set on fire,” one researcher said.

Described as “non-lethal,” the 15mm caliber weapon, which is said to have a range of 800 meters, weighs in at 6.6 lbs.

“The pain will be beyond endurance,” the researcher added.

Powered by a rechargeable lithium battery pack, the rifle will be capable of firing more than 1,000 two-second duration shots between charges.

Chen says the device, now ready for mass production and capable of being attached to vehicles such as cars, boats and planes, will likely be given to anti-terrorism squads in the Chinese Armed Police.

“In the event of a hostage situation it could be used to fire through windows at targets and temporarily disable the kidnappers while other units move in to rescue their captives,” Chen writes. “It could also be used in covert military operations. The beam is powerful enough to burn through a gas tank and ignite the fuel storage facility in a military airport.”

A technical document on the weapon’s capabilities reportedly cites setting fire to banners at “illegal protests” as another potential use.

Protest leaders could also have their clothing or hair set on fire, the document adds, which would cause them to lose “the rhythms of their speech and powers of persuasion”.

A second researcher noted that since the laser is invisible to the naked eye, “nobody will know where the attack came from.”

“It will look like an accident,” the researcher said.

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