Milley calls Chinese hypersonic missile test 'very significant' breakthrough


Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed Wednesday that China conducted a recent test of a hypersonic missile that circled the globe from pole to pole to test the potential delivery of a nuclear weapon.

The Pentagon’s top military officer made his remarks on the day the Defense Department made public its annual report on the Chinese military that projects Beijing will have up to 1,000 warheads by 2030. The current warhead stockpile has been estimated in the low 200s of warheads. China wants to replace the United States as the leading superpower and is taking steps with its military to achieve that goal, Gen. Milley said at the Aspen Security Forum.

The hypersonic test comes as part of an unprecedented, large-scale buildup of both conventional and strategic forces on the part of the communist-ruled nation.

“That test that occurred was a very significant test,” Gen. Milley said at a conference in Washington. “We witnessing, in my view, … one of the largest shifts in global geostrategic power that the world has witnessed,” he added.

The Chinese test of a hypersonic glide vehicle appeared to be part of a developing fractional orbital bombardment system, a nuclear strike capability designed to approach targets from polar trajectories and in so doing thwart current U.S. and allied early warning and defenses. The strike vehicle orbited the earth before attempting to hit a land target.

Hypersonic strike weapons travel at extremely high speeds and can maneuver to evade defenses, making them difficult to track and target.

The four-star general said hypersonic weapons are not new and that the recent Chinese test “was not a Sputnik moment,” a reference to the launch of the first satellite by the Soviet Union, setting off the space race. But the test represented a major advance in China’s military capabilities that include the relatively recent acquisition of advanced space capabilities, intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, jet fighters, warships and submarines, he said.

“So if you look at the totality – this test that occurred a couple of weeks ago is only one of a much, much broader picture of a military capability with respect to the Chinese that is very, very significant.

The Chinese arms buildup of unique weaponry has changed the character of modern warfare, a change that Gen. Milley compared to the introduction of military aircraft in World War II.

Robotic weapons, the application of artificial intelligence and the use of precision-guided munitions are being utilized in combination “are leading to a fundamental change in the character of war,” Gen. Milley said.

The new strategic environment makes it imperative for the U.S. military to meet the threats.

“If we, the U.S. military, don’t do a fundamental change to ourselves, in the coming 10 to 15 to 20 years then we’re going to be on the wrong side of a conflict,” he said.

Gen. Milley called the polar-orbiting hypersonic strike vehicle destabilizing: “I think there is the potential for that there could be strategic instability introduced into that,” he said.

The strategic threat posed by China is producing a “tri-polar world” similar to the U.S.-Soviet strategic confrontation during the Cold War, he noted.

“We’re entering into a world that in my view is potential more strategic unstable than the last 40, 50, 60 years,” he said. “That means we’re going to have to put a premium on maintaining great-power peace.”

Regarding the potential for a Chinese military move against Taiwan and recent stepped-up Chinese warplane incursions into the defense zone surrounding the island, Gen. Milley said he does not believe China will attack or use other methods to re-take Taiwan in the next 24 months.  But the Chinese,l he added, are “clearly and unambiguously” building forces for a possible future strike.

“In the near future, probably not. But anything can happen,” Gen. Milley said of a Taiwan conflict.

Gen. Milley said his recent controversial comments to a Chinese general highlight the need for increased communications.

Gen. Milley in October 2020 and January of this year called PLA counterpart Gen. Li  Zuocheng and informed him the United States had no plans to attack China and that he would inform him of any attack in advance.

The calls were made based on what Gen. Milley insists was intelligence indicating the Chinese feared a U.S. attack was imminent in the tense final days of the Trump administration and the 2020 U.S. election. Senior Trump administration officials, including then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said they were never informed of such alarming intelligence.

The general’s calls to Gen. Li drew fire from congressional Republicans who called on the general to resign.

Asked if China has been emboldened by the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Gen. Milley said U.S. adversaries should not misinterpret the pullout.

“If Russia or China or any other adversary is interpreting the conclusion of our involvement in Afghanistan in a way that determines weakness or walking away or turning our back, I think that would be a misinterpretation on their part,” he said. “I would caution any country out there to think that the United States in any way, shape or form is weak. That would be a bad call.”

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