Amid widespread reports that China recently successfully tested a hypersonic weapons system, which Beijing later denied and downplayed as a but a "routine spacecraft experiment" - America's top military officer is calling it a "very significant event" and watershed moment.
After the August test of a hypersonic glide vehicle was uncovered recently by US intelligence, it's since been reported that there were likely two tests over the summer, with the missile in the August test missing its target by about 24 miles. But that China's military is this far forward in hypersonics caught the US completely by surprise. "We have no idea how they did this," one unnamed US official familiar with the test said to the Financial Times.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a Bloomberg TV interview this week alluded to it being akin "to a Sputnik moment".
It's the first time the nation's top military commander has issued his frank assessment of China's hypersonic systems test:
"What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system. And it is very concerning," General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview for "The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations" on Bloomberg Television. "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."
It has the Pentagon and the intelligence community's attention precisely because it's been admitted that US capabilities in this advanced tech field are significantly behind.
The Bloomberg report cited Gregory Hayes, CEO of Raytheon Technologies Corp., as pointing out that the US is "at least several years behind" China in developing hypersonic technology. Bloomberg writes further of Milley's fresh comments:
While Milley stopped short of declaring the weapons test on par with Sputnik -- the pioneering 1957 satellite that gave the Soviet Union an early lead in the space race, shocking the U.S. -- the comparison showed the depth of concern about Beijing’s work on hypersonic arms.
FT initially reported the test was conducted in early August. However, sources familiar with US intelligence assessments say the second test occurred on August 13.
Three people familiar with the hypersonic tests cited in the report said US military officials were "stunned" because China tested weapons that the US does not currently possess.
Meanwhile the US last week held its own series of hypersonics tests in Alaska, with mixed results...
United States has successfully tested hypersonic missile technology, a new weapons system that is already being deployed by China and Russia, the US Navy sayshttps://t.co/lx0SWiaj1I pic.twitter.com/uO21EZEppG— AFP News Agency (@AFP) October 22, 2021
One person said US government space experts were baffled on how the Chinese were able to conduct such tests because they appeared "to defy the laws of physics."
China orbiting nuclear-capable hypersonic gliders exploits the weakness of US missile defense systems which means the new weapons could potentially strike the US mainland. Washington also has Russia's capabilities to worry about as well. Russia's military is arguably the most advanced in the field so far, having conducted multiple tests in various locations, but with at least one alleged hypersonic technology test having gone horribly wrong.