Top US general says China hypersonic missile test is 'very concerning'
Washington, Oct 28: The Pentagon's top general said on Wednesday that China's recent test of an earth-circling hypersonic missile was similar to the Soviet Union's launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, which sparked the superpowers' space race.
Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed for the first time that China is making significant advances in hypersonic weapons systems, which would be difficult for the US to defend against.
"What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system. And it is very concerning. I don't know if it's quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it's very close to that. It's a very significant technological event that occurred... and it has all of our attention.," General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with Bloomberg.
The US Department of Defense had previously declined to confirm the test, first reported by the Financial Times on October 16.
The newspaper said the August test launch caught Washington by surprise.
The missile circled the Earth at a low altitude and a velocity of more than five times the speed of sound, although it missed its target by more than 30 kilometers (19 miles), according to the Financial Times.
However, China denied it, saying it tested a hypersonic " reusable space vehicle" and not a nuclear-capable hypersonic "missile" as reported.
Hypersonics are the new frontier in missile technology, because they fly lower and so are harder to detect than ballistic missiles, can reach targets more quickly, and are maneuverable. That makes them more dangerous, particularly if mounted with nuclear warheads.
The United States, Russia, China and North Korea have all tested hypersonics and several others are developing the technology.
China in 2019 unveiled a hypersonic medium-range missile, the DF-17, which can travel around 2,000 kilometres and can carry nuclear warheads.
The missile mentioned in the FT story is a different one, with a longer range. It can be launched into orbit before coming back into the atmosphere to hit its target.
Why are hypersonic weapons important?
Hypersonic missiles are designed to travel more than five times the speed of sound on a flight trajectory that makes them more difficult to detect and intercept.
The technology is at the forefront of future warfare capabilities and the news of China's progress in this new arms race has been received with worry in the US.
(with PTI, AFP inputs)