Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking US general, warned that China’s possible hypersonic missile system is “very concerning,” calling it “very close” to a “Sputnik moment” that triggered the space race during the Cold War.
“What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system. And it is very concerning,” Milley said during an interview with “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” on Bloomberg Television. “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.”
Milley’s comments are the strongest acknowledgment of the likely test from the Biden administration after President Biden said last week that he was concerned.
Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki framed the situation oddly, saying that while the US is concerned over the reports, the administration welcomes “stiff competition.”
The apparent hypersonic weapons test happened in August and was first reported by the Financial Times. The rocket reportedly circled the globe before narrowly missing its target.
If true, the test would be a big advance for China’s nuclear weapon capabilities, but the Asian nation claims it was a space mission, not a missile test.
While Milley avoided making a complete comparison between the test and Sputnik — the first artificial satellite launched into low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union, which sparked the space race between the US and USSR — the general called China’s military “very capable.”
“They’re expanding rapidly — in space, in cyber and then in the traditional domains of land, sea and air,” he said. “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,” Milley continued. “They’ve developed a military that’s really significant.”
In recent months, Milley has come under fire for calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final weeks of the Trump administration — which he says were just a part of his job.
In September, the top general was questioned by the House Armed Services Committee over the two calls he made in October 2020 and Jan. 8 of this year. During the questioning, Milley admitted that he would give his Chinese counterpart a heads-up if the US launched an attack against Beijing.
“I said, hell, I’ll call you. But we’re not going to attack you,” Milley said, adding that he reached out to Gen. Li Zuocheng to assure him that President Donald Trump did not intend to launch a military strike.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) said Milley’s actions were grounds for resignation.