Home / Politics / Policy /  US military chief says China’s hypersonic missile test is close to ‘Sputnik moment’

WASHINGTON : The top U.S. military official described China’s recent test of a hypersonic missile as “very concerning" and said the Pentagon was focused on the development.

“What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system, and it is very concerning," Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg Television on Wednesday. “I don’t know if it’s quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that. It has all of our attention."

“Sputnik moment" refers to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the first artificial satellite, named Sputnik, which shook the U.S.’s view of its own technological superiority and national security.

Gen. Milley didn’t provide new details of the August test, in which a Chinese hypersonic missile orbited the globe before heading toward its target. But his comments were a rare instance in which a senior U.S. official discussed the test on the record.

Last month, U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall appeared to allude to China’s new hypersonic missile, saying in a speech that China was developing the capability to launch “global strikes from space."

“There is a potential for weapons to be launched into space, then go through this old concept from the Cold War called the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System…which is a system that basically goes into orbit and then de-orbits to a target," Mr. Kendall said.

The test was first reported earlier this month by the Financial Times.

US officials and weapons experts outside the government have speculated that the missile program is intended by the Chinese to circumvent U.S. missile defenses with a nuclear-armed system.

Though U.S. missile defenses aren’t currently capable of stopping a substantial Chinese nuclear attack, Beijing might be concerned that the U.S.’s antimissile capabilities might be expanded, the officials and experts said.

Some U.S. officials say, however, that the new missile might be intended to deliver nonnuclear attacks on U.S. ports or installations in the Pacific.

Robert Soofer, who served as the senior Defense Department official for nuclear and missile-defense policy during the Trump administration, said the hypersonic missile isn’t the most threatening Chinese system.

“The expansion of the Chinese ICBM silos pose more of a threat," he said in an interview. “This is part of an effort to achieve military parity across the board."

China currently has only a few hundred nuclear warheads, but U.S. officials have projected that Beijing’s small arsenal could at least double over the next decade.

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