Fox News reports that China recently caught U.S. intelligence by surprise by testing a hypersonic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload.
The outlet reports:
The missile launched in August and circled the globe before speeding towards its target, which it missed by about two-dozen miles according to three individuals briefed on the intelligence.
Hypersonic missiles are theoretically difficult to track or intercept because they can fly and maneuver at low altitude while traveling at five times the speed of sound or faster. A hypersonic missile would penetrate existing anti-missile defense systems and hit the target so quickly that it could be difficult to tell exactly where it was launched from, and the target would have very little advanced warning before impact.
According to a report from the Financial Times, U.S. intelligence knew that China was working on this technology, but it didn’t know that China had progressed this far. One individual is quoted as saying, “we have no idea how they did this.”
The White House’s response
On Monday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, instead of commenting on the specifics, made a general statement, saying, “we watch closely China’s development of armaments and advanced capabilities and systems that will only increase tensions in the region.”
Later in the day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Austin’s statement: “I can say, and echo what he said, which is, generally speaking, we have made clear our concern about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue, and we’ve been consistent in our approach with China.”
Psaki, however, has been criticized for adding, “we welcome stiff competition, but we do not want that competition to veer into conflict, and that is certainly what we convey privately as well.”
China, for its part, claimed through one of its propaganda channels that it wasn’t a hypersonic missile that it tested but a spacecraft that “could provide a convenient and affordable way to make a round trip for mankind’s peaceful use of space.”
But, according to U.S. News and World Report, Chinese insiders are saying that the missile test “was not designed to accelerate an arms race with the West but rather to grant Beijing a strategic advantage to seize control of the Taiwan Straits and other hotly contested territory [sic] in its region.”
Republicans weigh in
Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL) made an appearance on the Fox News Channel where he referred to China’s hypersonic missile test as “the culmination of multiple decades of the Chinese stealing their way to the top through taking our IP out of our universities, our research institutions, through cyber.” He added that the “most frustrating” part is that “it’s our money that is fueling this military build-up from Wall Street, to Hollywood, to sports, you name it.”
Sen. Linsey Graham, during his own appearance on Fox, called China’s hypersonic missile test, if it’s true, “the biggest game-changer in the last 40 years when it comes to our nuclear problems with China.”
“We’ve allowed the Chinese to leapfrog us,” Graham said. “And we’re going to have to do one of two things: Get them to stand down, and I don’t know how Joe Biden convinces anybody to stand down. And if they don’t stand down, we’re going to have to develop a capability to neutralize this and one-up China.”