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Theoretical analysis of the discharge characteristics and the output performance of a self‐sustained discharge XeCl laser is described. Validity of the theoretical laser model including the excitation circuitry is confirmed by comparing the results with the measured discharge and output performance under lasing conditions. The dischare parameters such as E/P (E is the electrical field strength and P is the operating pressure) and discharge resistivity are theoretically studied for both Ne‐ and He‐based gas mixtures. Our model shows that the electron energy distribution functions of these two mixtures become quite equal at each quasi‐steady‐state E/P, and that the improved laser output performance with Ne‐based gas mixtures is not due to the difference of the electron energy distribution function but due to the good optical extraction caused by the faster ion‐ion recombination excimer formation channel. Moreover, the model also predicts that the depletion of HCl molecules is one of the most serious problems in the long optical pulse operation.