Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who has elicited strong criticism after a report that he had made two “secret” phone calls to his Chinese counterpart during the final months of the Trump administration, has issued the first official acknowledgment during the Biden administration that China conducted two missile tests this past summer using hypersonic missiles, a claim China has denied.
Milley stated in an interview for “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” on Bloomberg Television, “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 has all of our attention.”
“The 1957 Soviet satellite launch of Sputnik shocked Americans, who feared that the Soviets were pulling ahead in technological ability,” the BBC recalled.
Milley also stated of China, “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 the domains and has global ambitions. … As we go forward — over the next 10, 20, 25 years — there’s no question in my mind that the biggest geostrategic challenge to the United States is gonna be China. They’ve developed a military that’s really significant.”
Milley theorized that official defense spending figures regarding China’s military buildup did not accurately reflect how strong it was, saying, “You gotta zero out to the cost of labor. Chinese military troops are not anywhere close to the level of expense” of a U.S. soldier. “So, zero that out. Then you get budgets that are much closer.” He pointed out that state-owned companies in the commercial sector run Chinese military’s research and development, thus further confusing the issue, adding, “If you really peel the onion back and you do a detailed analysis” that compares “apples to apples, you’ll see budgets that are much closer to each other than people might think.”
When prompted by reporters about Milley’s remarks, Defense Department spokesman John Kirby would only say “this is not a technology that is alien to us, that we haven’t been thinking about for a while,” adding the U.S. has defensive capabilities “that we need to hone and to improve. … Our own pursuit of hypersonic capabilities is real, it’s tangible and we are absolutely working towards being able to develop that capability, but I won’t get into the specifics of testing and where we are.”
“The next-generation technology, if perfected, could be used to send nuclear warheads over the South Pole and around American anti-missile systems in the northern hemisphere. Hypersonic weapons are normally defined as fast, low-flying and highly maneuverable weapons designed to be too quick and agile for traditional missile defense systems,” Bloomberg noted.