In an interview that aired Wednesday, America's top general said that China's recent test of a powerful hypersonic weapon system is "very close" to a "Sputnik moment" in the standoff between the US and its global rival, admitting that Beijing's rapidly expanding military capabilities are of deep concern at the Pentagon.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley acknowledged rumors that China completed a milestone test of its hypersonic weapons program this summer on Bloomberg Television's "The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations" program.
China's Communist Party leaders have dismissed the stories, claiming that the object was simply a spaceship.
Gen. Milley refuted those assertions. He used a Cold War watershed moment to explain the event's significance when the Soviet Union astonished the world by launching the first satellite into orbit.
Despite refusing to get into specifics, the general admitted that the test was a "significant technological event" that demonstrated China's development in the past decade with its hypersonic program and a variety of other military sectors.
"What we witnessed was a major test of a hypersonic weapon system, and it is extremely concerning. "I'm not sure if it's quite a Sputnik moment, but I believe it's close," he remarked. Sputnik's launch in 1957 spurred a military buildup and a space competition between Russia and the United States.
"It's a very significant technological event, or test, that the Chinese have conducted, and it has our full attention," Gen. Milley said. "However, that is only one weapon system. China's military might is far more powerful than that. They're swiftly expanding in space, cyberspace, and then the traditional land, sea, and air domains. And they've progressed from a peasant-based infantry force to a highly proficient military with global ambitions that spans all fields. As a result, China is looming large on our horizon."
This month, the Financial Times was the first to report on the Chinese tests, citing unnamed defense officials.
Gen. Milley did not refute reports that the Chinese military's hypersonic missile was capable of carrying a nuclear payload into space, making it exponentially more dangerous and putting even more pressure on high-stakes programs deep within the Defense Department to develop missile defense systems capable of countering hypersonic technology. According to many private analysts, this is one crucial area where China and Russia have surpassed the United States.
Chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby highlighted the concerns of China's expanding military prowess just hours after the Gen. Milley interview aired.
At a Pentagon press conference Wednesday afternoon, he told reporters that "we remain concerned about China's advancement of certain capabilities." "They have a global reach that we must be aware of and cautious of."
Pentagon officials have steered clear of direct comparisons between American and Chinese hypersonic technology. It's unclear whether China's military leadership was aware of the amount of hypersonic capability demonstrated in the most recent tests. Nonetheless, the most recent test will heighten suspicions that China's programs are on a level with, if not beyond, those of the United States.
Weapons that travel at five times the speed of sound are known as hypersonic weapons. Many experts believe the technology will revolutionize combat in the twenty-first century. If the Chinese successfully launch nuclear-armed hypersonic weapons into orbit, they might strike targets all around the world while avoiding even the most advanced US missile defense systems.
Military commanders in the United States are well aware of the severe threats presented by Chinese and Russian hypersonic programs. Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted that his country's Avangard hypersonic system can destroy any defense system now in use.
Hypersonics spending has been considerably increased in Pentagon budgets. In its fiscal year 2022 budget, the Defense Department requested at least $3.8 billion for hypersonics programs as a "down payment" on future weapons systems.
Last week, researchers at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia launched a barrage of rockets as part of the Pentagon's ambition to build hypersonic missiles for the Navy and Army.
In a statement, Navy officials stated, "These launches allow for frequent and regular flight testing opportunities to support rapid maturation of offensive and defensive hypersonic technologies."
Pentagon officials have stated that operational hypersonic systems will be available in the early to mid-2020s. Unlike China and Russia, the US is developing non-nuclear hypersonic strike capabilities, according to Defense Department officials.
Chinese officials have categorically denied hypersonic testing weapons, claiming that the US is guilty of a double standard by denouncing foreign hypersonic research while pursuing the same technology rapidly.
"We have noted that the United States has raised concerns about China's routine spacecraft test and has emphasized the 'China threat' notion. Can the United States explain to the world community what it plans to accomplish with its hypersonic weapons development?" Last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stated.
"And why is the United States concerned about others?" Is this to say that the international community has every reason to be concerned about US actions?" he stated
According to US legislators this week, China's hypersonic test should raise red flags on other fronts as well.
Late last week, Republican members of the House's China task force wrote to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, urging her that the US needed to strengthen its export control policy. They said that if the Chinese dictatorship did not employ American technology, it would advance its deadly weapons projects.
"Reports that China has tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile are a chilling demonstration of the Chinese Communist Party's capabilities and intentions." To make matters worse, because of our country's liberal export controls and licensing policies with China, it's possible that US software and tools were used in the development of this weapons system," task force Chairman Michael T. McCaul, a Texas Republican, and his colleagues stated.
"Liberal democracies may cede more ground to a genocidal, authoritarian regime if this is not the clarion call to overhaul export controls," they said.