The Chinese People’s Liberation Army may be equipping their troops with new handheld laser weapons. Not quite phasers from Star Trek, or blasters from Star Wars, these weapons are designed to blind sensors, and possibly enemy personnel, preventing them from accurately deploying their own lethal weapons. The Washington Free Beacon covers the weapons and their being a possible violation of a 1998 international agreement:
China’s military has equipped its forces with blinding laser weapons in apparent violation of an international agreement signed by Beijing.
“China has been updating its home-made blinding laser weapons in recent years to meet the needs of different combat operations,” the official military newspaperPLA Daily reported Dec. 9.
“Blinding laser weapons are primarily used to blind … targets with laser[s] in [the] short distance, or interfere [with] and damage … laser and night vision equipment,” the brief photo report stated.
A State Department official expressed concerns that the weapons appear to violate a provision of the United Nations 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. The convention includes a 1998 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons banning their use in combat.
“The United States is committed to the CCW and expects all parties to uphold the convention and its protocols,” the official told the Washington Free Beacon, using an acronym for the 1980 convention.
China agreed to follow the prohibition in 1998, according to the convention’s website.
A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not respond to an email request for comment about the laser weapons.
“The U.S. already has a problem with laser pointers being directed at in flight aircraft,” Daly said. “If these laser guns make their way here, we are very likely to see aircrews actually blinded during flight and possibly worse.”
In response to numerous incidents of laser pointers being used to illuminate commercial aircraft pilots in flight, the FBI last year launched a campaign offering rewards for people illegally firing laser pointers at aircraft cockpits.
“When aimed at an aircraft from the ground, the powerful beam of light from a handheld laser can travel more than a mile and illuminate a cockpit, disorienting and temporarily blinding pilots,” the FBI said in a statement.
The Air Force is reportedly developing airborne lasers for use against enemy aircraft, drones, or missiles. The Navy has deployed a Laser Weapon System to defend ships against drones, small boats, and submarines.
However, the military has no plans for laser rifles similar to the Chinese guns.
Rick Fisher, an expert on Chinese weapons systems, said the PLA has at least two types of laser guns and may be seeking to sell them abroad.
While not currently observed for sale at the global arms exhibitions, Fisher said Chinese arms sellers attending arms shows likely interacted with foreign customers for the lasers.
“There is a strong possibility these new dazzlers are being marketed for foreign sale,” he said.
According to the article, the new laser weapons were being demonstrated in a recent Chinese expo in early December, and are portrayed as being police weapons only. The concern is that the weapons, if offered up for international sale, could present a hazard to aircrews and other personnel.
The US military has been working on laser weapons for surface- and air-based offensive use, as evidenced by recent testing of an offensive laser aboard the USS Ponce, and a General Atomics release announcing testing of a new 150-kW laser weapon. These weapons are not mere blinding laser, but actual destructive tools, though still most likely to be used against sensors and other fragile targets.
The new Chinese laser weapons are not even remotely powerful enough to replace the small arms in use today, but they are a good benchmark for how far the technology has come, and how far it has left to go before true handheld offensive laser weapons become practical.
H/T, Hognose of WeaponsMan, who also has his own excellent article on the subject.