CHINA IS CLOSE TO ITS SPUTNIK MOMENT #437
GOOD MORNING FROM LONDON
The FT reports that the US military’s top officer has confirmed that China recently tested an advanced hypersonic weapon, calling it a “very significant” development to which Washington was paying close attention. General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the test of the nuclear-capable weapon was close to a “Sputnik moment” — referring to the start of the space race between the US + Soviet Union when the world’s first artificial satellite was launched by Moscow in 1957.
General Milley is the first official to confirm an FT report that China had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic weapon. The test was the first time any country had sent a hypersonic weapon fully around the Earth. The vehicle missed its target by roughly 24 miles. But three people familiar with the intelligence about the test who spoke to the FT said the Chinese weapons system at one point demonstrated a highly advanced capability — “shocking the Pentagon because US military scientists do not understand how it was accomplished.”
The rocket system follows a lower trajectory than an intercontinental ballistic missile, which makes it harder for early-warning systems to detect. It can also fly over the South Pole, whereas most US missile defence systems are aimed at attacks over the North Pole.
The tests came after senior US commanders had for months warned about China’s rapidly expanding nuclear forces. Admiral Charles Richard, who oversees US nuclear forces as the head of Strategic Command, told Congress in April that China was engaged in a “remarkable expansion” of its nuclear forces and aimed to become a nuclear peer by the end of the decade. Commercially obtained satellite imagery then revealed that China was building hundreds of silos to house its land-based ICBMs.
As the US commits more military to the Far East + China beefs up its technological defences, two points emerge — first, China will defend China. Second, Washington + Beijing need to maintain an active hot line communication to avoid an accidental outbreak of hostilities.
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