Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley confirmed to Defense One this week that a suspected Chinese hypersonic missile test “did circle the globe,” demonstrating its potential to circumvent U.S. missile defenses.
“What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system. And it is very concerning,” Milley said in another interview for Bloomberg TV’s “The David Rubenstein Show,” which aired Wednesday.
“I think I saw in some of the newspapers, they used the term ‘Sputnik moment,'” Milley continued, referring to Russia’s launch of the satellite Sputnik, during the Cold War. “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.”
With a hypersonic weapon capable of circling the globe, China could theoretically deploy nuclear warheads over the South Pole, circumventing the large portion of U.S. missile defenses that are built up in the northern hemisphere and focused against a potential attack from the North Pole route.
Milley said the new Chinese hypersonic missile test “has all of our attention” but said, “That’s just one weapon’s system.”
“The Chinese military capabilities are much greater than that,” Milley continued. “They’re expanding rapidly in space, in cyber and then in the traditional domains of land, sea and air. And they have gone from a peasant-based infantry army that was very, very large in 1979 to a very capable military that covers all of the domains and has global ambitions.”
The Financial Times reported 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.”
Asked if the U.S. was caught “flat-footed” by the new launch, Milley said, “We are clearly experimenting and testing and developing technologies, to include hypersonics, artificial intelligence, robotics and a whole wide range” of other weapons, systems and capabilities.
While the U.S. has been working toward its own hypersonic weapons systems, a U.S. hypersonic missile test failed just days after news outlets began to report on China’s successful hypersonic launch.
At another point in the interview, Milley was asked what the greatest military threat the U.S. faces is, to which he replied, “I think it’s China, and I’ve said that publicly many times.”
“As we look to the future, and I think we are living in a historical epoch actually where we’re seeing is the rise of a country that is unlike anything we’ve seen probably ever before,” Milley added. “And it’s one of the great historical pivot points I think that we’ve ever witnessed, which is the rise of China.”