The US top general said China’s suspected hypersonic missile test is close to a Sputnik moment, referring to the launch of the Soviet satellite that sparked the Cold War arms race.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley said in an interview with Bloomberg News that the Chinese military is “expanding rapidly”.
The Financial Times reported this month that the test stunned the US military.
Beijing denies any missile tests, saying instead that it was a spacecraft.
“What we saw was a very significant event of a hypersonic weapon system test. And it’s very concerning,” Gen Milley told Bloomberg on Wednesday.
“I don’t know if it’s a good Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that. It has our full attention.”
- Could China’s hypersonic missile trigger a new arms race?
His comment is the first official US acknowledgment of claims that China conducted two missile tests over the summer. Reports indicate that it was a nuclear missile capable of evading US air defense systems.
The launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite in 1957 shocked Americans, who feared the Soviets were making progress in terms of technological capability.
The event prompted President John F Kennedy to declare that the United States would land men on the moon, a goal achieved in less than a decade.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to comment on the general’s remarks during a briefing on Wednesday, saying, “This is not a technology that is foreign to us, that we haven’t thought about in a while.”
He added that the United States is working to strengthen defense systems and pursue its hypersonic capabilities.
Hypersonic missiles are capable of traveling at five times the speed of sound.
They are considered more maneuverable than conventional missiles and more capable of avoiding interception by air defense.
Last week the United States conducted three tests of hypersonic missiles, launched from a NASA facility in Virginia.
The tests will be used to “inform the development” of future hypersonic missiles, US officials said in a statement.
General Milley also warned that the Chinese army has grown “from a peasant-based infantry army that was very, very large in 1979 to a very capable army that spans all domains and has global ambitions.”
According to CNN, CIA Director Bill Burns described China last week as the greatest technological threat to the United States. Earlier this month he said the spy agency would upgrade his efforts towards China.
President Joe Biden’s White House characterized the relationship between the United States and China as a “strategic competition”.
General Milley was forced to step down last month and was charged with treason after it was reported that he had assured his Chinese counterpart in the final days of the Trump administration that the United States would not launch a nuclear strike.
The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff later said the calls were “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job.
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