On Tuesday, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the US and China are engaged in an arms race to develop more lethal hypersonic weapons.
“There is an arms race, not necessarily for increased numbers, but for increased quality,” Kendall told Reuters. “It’s an arms race that has been going on for quite some time. The Chinese have been at it very aggressively.”
US military leaders have been warning of China and Russia’s hypersonic advancements to justify more military spending. Since taking his post this summer, Kendall has been loudly calling for the development of new weapons and has said he’d like to see the US military field the type of new technologies that “scare China.”
In October, The Financial Times reported that China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle in space that circled the globe and supposedly “shocked” US officials. Since the reports came out, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the tests were close to a “Sputnik moment,” referring to when the Soviet Union launched the first space satellite.
But some experts have said the tests were not as advanced as the US has made them out to be. “Any country that can put something into space could do this,” David Wright, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The New York Times. For their part, China only acknowledged one of the tests but said it launched a reusable space vehicle, not a weapon.
The US has been conducting hypersonic missile tests of its own, launching the weapons in September and October. While Kendall is focused on China, other US officials have said Russia is more advanced than the US when it comes to hypersonic missiles. But Russian President Vladimir Putin said he believes Washington is ahead of Moscow in its development of the weapons.
“We do know that our American partners are slightly ahead in development of hypersonic weapons after all,” Putin said on Tuesday. The Russian president said that while the US is testing hypersonics and other types of weapons, there is less “fuss” around the US tests than there is when Russia and China do it. “They simply don’t talk about it and nobody is making a fuss about it,” he said.