Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an interview with CBS News said the hypersonic missile launched last summer by China traveled around the world at more than five times the speed of sound.
"It went around the world, dropped off a hypersonic glide vehicle that glided all the way back to China, that impacted a target in China," Hyten, the No. 2 person in the U.S. military, told the news outlet.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles travel in a predictable arc and can be tracked by long-range radars, but a hypersonic weapon maneuvers much closer to the earth, making it more difficult for radars to detect, CBS noted. China is building hundreds of new missile silos, and Hyten believes the Chinese could have the capability to launch a surprise nuclear attack on the U.S.
Nuclear arms experts say China's weapons test appeared to be designed to evade U.S. defenses, Reuters reported. The United States believes China's test involved a weapon that first orbited the Earth. That's something military experts say is a Cold War concept known as "fractional orbital bombardment."
China's hypersonic test took place on July 27 and has been compared to the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the former Soviet Union in 1957 during the arms race.
"Sputnik created a sense of urgency in the United States," Hyten said. "The test on July 27 did not create that sense of urgency. I think it probably should create a sense of urgency."
Hyten told CBS News that China has carried out hundreds of hypersonic tests over the last five years while the U.S. has conducted only nine. China has already deployed one medium-range hypersonic weapon, while the U.S. is a few years away from its first one, he said.
Meanwhile, China's foreign ministry denied a weapons test, Reuters reported. China said it had carried out a routine test in July, but added: "It was not a missile, it was a space vehicle."
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