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Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley says China's hypersonic weapons test was almost a "Sputnik moment"

General Mark Milley, the nation's top military officer, called China's suspected test of a hypersonic weapons system "very concerning" and almost like a "Sputnik moment," amid increasing tension between the U.S. and China. 

Beijing is believed to have tested the weapons system during the summer, but neither the Defense Department nor U.S. intelligence agencies had formally acknowledged China's suspected test of a hypersonic weapons system, so Milley's recognition and characterization of the suspected test is significant. 

Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president's top military adviser, made the comment during an interview with "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," Milley said this week. "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 was referencing the Soviet Union's successful launch of the world's first artificial satellite in 1957, an event that sparked the start of space exploration and the space race between the U.S. and the Soviets. 

"I've seen, of course, General Milleys' comments," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during Wednesday's press briefing. "I think what he was conveying was the concern we all have about China's military modernization efforts. They continue to pursue capabilities that increase tensions in the region, and we continue to have concerns about that." 

Hypersonic missiles travel at least five times the speed of sound, and they can fly much lower to the ground than conventional ballistic missiles. That makes them much harder to trace, and therefore much harder to stop. Retired Admiral James "Sandy" Winnefeld, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the apparent Chinese test demonstrates the ability of the Chinese to have a hypersonic weapon that could cause a lot of damage without us being able to do anything about it."

A U.S. booster rocket carrying a hypersonic glide body failed to launch last week during a test by the Defense Department's hypersonic weapons program. The Defense Department attributed the failure only to the booster rocket, however, and not to the hypersonic technology. 

President Biden frequently refers to the competitive nature of the U.S. relationship with China. He spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time in seven months in September, in order to keep channels of communication open between the two countries, so that they don't unintentionally "veer into conflict." 

But during a CNN townhall last week, Mr. Biden raised some eyebrows when he said the U.S. has a "commitment" to defend Taiwan if China attacks it. Xi said anyone advocating for Taiwan's independence would be "condemned to history." The White House emphasized the president was not announcing a new policy position, and the U.S. would continue to be guided by the The Taiwan Relations Act.

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