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Thomas Gallatin / October 19, 2021

ChiComs’ Hypersonic Missile a Sputnik Moment?

Americans learn of China’s successful test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile.

Yesterday, Americans learned that China successfully tested nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles back in July and August, a test that reportedly caught U.S. intelligence off guard. While it is highly unlikely that the test of a hypersonic missile actually surprised or was unbeknown to U.S. intelligence before it occurred, what is true is that Beijing is clearly and aggressively pushing forward in developing military technology and capabilities beyond mere regional concerns.

China’s hypersonic missile test, which was reported to have circled the globe before hitting within a couple dozen miles of its intended target, represents the latest salvo in the 21st-century arms race — an arms race in which the U.S. can ill afford to fall behind. The question is whether the Biden administration is willing to acknowledge this reality. The response from the Biden administration thus far is less than comforting.

When pressed to address China’s test, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki sought to deflect by pointing to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s comments made earlier in the day about how administration leaders “have made clear our concern about the military capabilities that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] continues to pursue.”

However, it was Psaki’s last comment regarding Beijing’s missile test that was the most surprising. “We welcome stiff competition,” she asserted, “but we do not want that competition to veer into conflict, and that is certainly what we convey privately as well.” (Someone should get General Mark Milley on the phone about that “competition.”)

We’re not talking about some football game here. We’re talking about our biggest geopolitical foe aggressively working to develop military technology that is specifically designed to thwart our own defenses and strike at any target within the U.S. mainland. Hypersonic missiles, unlike ballistic cruise missiles, have the maneuverable capabilities of a Tomahawk cruise missile but with six times the speed, making them especially difficult to track and shoot down.

China’s hypersonic missile test should serve as a Sputnik moment for the country. Americans cannot simply assume that our long-running military superiority throughout the Cold War era and beyond will inevitably and unquestioningly continue even as China engages in aggressive military expansion and weapons development. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board observes: “The post-Cold War era in which the U.S. could assume it had the military edge is over. Regional powers like Russia and Iran are already using asymmetric weapons like cyber to attack the U.S. And China is building similar capability as well as a blue-water navy and anti-satellite weapons.”

Unfortunately, we have a president who is fixated on pushing through massive, debt-exploding welfare expansions via $5 trillion in spending packages that ignore one of the few constitutionally defined fiscal responsibilities of the federal government — funding for the defense of the nation. Moreover, we have a president whose history with the ChiComs is rather checkered. A world suffering under the brutal thumb of Chinese communist tyrants will result in far more suffering, death, and destruction of nature than will climate change.

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