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Top US General: China’s tested hypersonics hundreds of times, US only 9

An artist's sketch of an X-60A launch. (U.S. Air Force/Released)
October 29, 2021

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten said on Wednesday that the U.S. has tested hypersonic missiles just nine times compared to China’s hundreds of tests, and lamented the United States’ heavily bureaucratic system as one of the factors that has delayed its progress.

“What you need to be worried about is that in the last five years, or maybe longer, the United States has done nine hypersonic missile tests, and in the same time the Chinese have done hundreds,” Hyten said at a Defense Writers Group event, as reported by Space News.  

“Single digits vs hundreds is not a good place,” Hyten added, noting that China is “doing it the way we used to do it, and they move fast.”

Just last week, the Pentagon attempted to test a hypersonic missile from Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska, to “inform the department’s hypersonic technology development,” but the test was unsuccessful due to “a failure of the booster stack.”

The failed test took place days after reports first revealed that China had tested a globe-circling, nuke-capable hypersonic missile in August. Hyten confirmed China’s test did take place.

“All the facts I know about the test are classified,” he said. “A test did occur, it is very concerning.”

Hyten said the U.S. hypersonic development is “making marginal progress” but added that “the DoD is still unbelievably bureaucratic and slow.”

Some delays have stemmed from the fact that the U.S. won’t test weapons technology until reaching high confidence it will be a success, point out that the U.S. “stud[ies] it to death before we move on.” He noted that if the U.S. cannot overcome its anti-failure mindset and insert speed and urgency back into the process, China will surpass the U.S.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also confirmed this week that China’s suspected Chinese hypersonic missile test in August “did circle the globe,” calling it “a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system. And it is very concerning.” 

U.S. officials were initially surprised by China’s suspected hypersonic missile test in August. One official said, “We have no idea how they did this.”

Aside from the U.S. and China, Russia has also been pursuing hypersonic weapons. Hyten noted that the U.S. should keep its eye on Russia’s hypersonic advancement, but China is the real threat.

“At the pace [China is] on, they will surpass Russia and the United States if we don’t do something to change it,” he said. “We have to worry about Russia in the near term. They continue to experiment with hypersonics but not nearly at the pace of China, not anywhere close to the pace of China.”

Hyten has served as the 11th Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since November 2019 and is set to retire on November 21. He previously commanded U.S. Strategic Command from 2016 to 2019, and Air Force Space Command from 2014 to 2016.