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Pentagon admits falling behind China on hypersonic missiles as China completes high-altitude spy drone

Xi Jinping speaks to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 28, 2017. (Ma Zhancheng/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)
May 06, 2023

Pentagon leaders recently admitted that the U.S. is not keeping up with China in development of hypersonic missiles and defenses as tensions between the two countries mount. The revelations come after a leaked document indicated China’s military is on the cusp of completing a high-altitude spy drone that can fly at three times the speed of sound.

The Pentagon’s hypersonic programs are behind China’s and progress “needs to go faster,” the U.S. military’s top commander in the Indo-Pacific Region, Adm. John Aquilino, said during a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Military Times reported.

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He added that the rate of expansion of China’s nuclear program is “concerning.”

Hypersonic missiles are highly maneuverable and fly at more than five times the speed of sound, potentially bypassing traditional defenses and altering the dynamics of modern warfare. The race to develop them has become a priority for several countries, including Russia and India.

A recently-leaked U.S. intelligence document indicated that in February, China successfully tested a hypersonic missile that could strike Guam, an island that hosts U.S. forces, as reported by the Washington Post.

The document said the missile, called DF-27, flew 1,300 miles in 12 minutes and had a capability called “hypersonic glide” to help it evade missile defenses, the Post reported.

Meanwhile in the U.S., Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said a hypersonic weapon test on March 13 was “not a success,” Defense News reported. The reason for the test’s failure was not immediately clear. 

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During the meeting, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) criticized “the generals and admirals and so-called experts who have sat before this committee and the Senate for decades saying that these capabilities that we were funding with gajillions of dollars were going to sufficiently deter China.”

Another leaked U.S. document recently indicated that China’s military is on the cusp of completing a high-altitude spy drone, the Washington Post reported.

Potential flight paths included on the document showed the drone could enter South Korean or Taiwanese airspace after being launched from a warplane, the Post reported.

The director of the aeronautical systems research division at the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, Chi Li-pin, told the Post the drone would mostly be used against the U.S. and Pacific military bases.

“It’s a weapon for anti-access and area denial,” he said, adding, “It is difficult to detect and intercept. The existing U.S. air-to-air weapons aren’t good enough.”