The US General Mark Milley has called China’s recent hypersonic missile test “very close” to a Sputnik moment.
In an interview, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said, “the test of a hypersonic weapon system is very significant technological event that occurred”.
He said, “I don’t know if it’s quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that.” referring to the Soviet Union’s launch of a satellite in 1957 that signified their substantial lead in the so-called “space race” with the US that defined that era.
Analysts have said that China’s test could launch a hyperdrive into a technological race between the two superpowers as the sputnik launch in 1957 did.
The experiment was ‘very concerning’
Milley added that China’s weapons system development was “very concerning”.
Last week, the Financial Times reported that China had conducted not one, but two tests of a new hypersonic weapons system, which analysts said can deliver payloads extremely quickly, evade modern radar systems, and likely far outstrip current US capabilities.
The newspaper reported that on July 27, Beijing launched a rocket that employed a ‘fractional orbital bombardment system’ to propel a nuclear-capable ‘hypersonic glide vehicle’ around the Earth for the first time.
On August 13, China conducted its second hypersonic test which was reported describing US officials as “stunned” and “struggling to understand” the capabilities of the new technology.
Milley’s comments represent the most substantial public acknowledgment yet from a US defense official on the tests and their implications. Following the initial reports on the tests, US President Joe Biden had said that he was concerned by the development.
Beijing denies the tests
Beijing, for its part, has denied it was testing a hypersonic weapon, instead of saying the test was of a reusable ‘space vehicle’.
In the Bloomberg interview, Milley said that the US is also “clearly experimenting, and testing and developing technologies to include hypersonic, artificial intelligence, robotics – a whole wide range”.
Days earlier, the Pentagon announced it had conducted three tests on components that will inform the development of a US hypersonic weapons system.
However, on Tuesday, the head of major defense contractor Raytheon warned that the US is at least “several years behind” developing the technology tested by China.
Milley added that China’s technology and weapons capabilities were “expanding rapidly”, and that the US would have to adapt.
“Now, if you take a step back, what we’re in history-wise, we’re in one of the most significant changes in what I call the ‘character of war’. We’re going to have to adjust our military going forward.”