High-ranking US general: Chinese weapons test ‘very worrying’, close to a Sputnik moment

WASHINGTON (AP) – China recently conducted a “very worrying” test of a hypersonic weapons system as part of its aggressive advance in space and military technologies, the senior US military official said.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the first Pentagon official to officially confirm the nature of a test conducted this year by the Chinese military that the Financial Times had reported was a nuclear-capable hypersonic weapon that was launched. in space and orbited Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding toward its target in China.

Milley said he couldn’t discuss the details because the issues involved classified intelligence. He said the United States is also working on hypersonic weapons, the key characteristics of which include flight path, speed and maneuverability that make them capable of evading early warning systems that are part of American missile defenses. The United States has not conducted a hypersonic weapon test of the kind Milley said China had accomplished.

“What we saw was a very significant event of a hypersonic weapons system test, and it’s very concerning,” Milley said on “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” on Bloomberg Television.

“I think I saw in some of the newspapers that they used the term Sputnik moment,” he added. “I don’t know if it’s a great Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that. So it’s a very significant technological event that happened, or a test that happened, on the part of the Chinese. And he has our full attention. “

The Soviet Union’s launch of a Sputnik satellite in 1957 stunned the world and fueled fears in the United States that it was technologically lagging behind in an accelerated arms race in the early stages of the nuclear age.

FILE – In this undated photo, Soviet cosmonaut Major Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit Earth, appears in his spacesuit. On April 12, 1961, the Russian cosmonaut became the first man in space when he orbited Earth once during a 108-minute flight (AP Photo, File)

China has disputed Western news reports about its test, saying it was working on technology for a peaceful reusable space vehicle.

When asked about Milley’s comments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she was expressing concern about China’s military modernization.

“They continue to seek capabilities that increase tensions in the region,” he said. “And we continue to have concerns about that. And I think that was reflected in his comments. “

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to comment on the test or Milley’s comments beyond saying that China’s work on advanced hypersonic weaponry is among a “set of issues” that make the Biden administration worry about “the trajectory of where things are going.” the Indo-Pacific “.

When asked about the progress of US hypersonic weapons technologies, Kirby said “it’s real, it’s tangible, and we’re working to build that capability.” He declined to provide details.

Some US defense experts say concern over China’s work on a hypersonic weapon that could launch a nuclear weapon from space is overblown.

James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote in an essay last week that the United States has long been vulnerable to a Chinese nuclear attack.

“While the prospect of a nuclear strike against the United States is terrifying, this is not the time for Sputnik, partly because it is not entirely clear what was proven, but mainly because the threat of a Chinese nuclear strike against the United States is not. not even remotely new. ”Acton wrote.

In addition to its advances in hypersonic weapons, China has been expanding its network of underground silos that could be used to launch intercontinental-range nuclear missiles, and has rejected calls from the United States to join the talks on nuclear weapons control. The United States has also expressed concern over what it calls Chinese efforts to intimidate Taiwan, the autonomous island that China claims as part of its territory, and to claim disputed islands and other land features in the South China Sea.

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