U.S. military forces “don’t know how to defend” against China and Russia’s most advanced missile systems, a senior U.S. diplomat has acknowledged.
This comes after a shocking report that China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile earlier this year. The Chinese government has disputed the report, claiming they were testing a spacecraft instead.
“Hypersonic technology is something that we have been concerned about,” said Ambassador Robert Wood, who represents the United States at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. “We just don’t know how we can defend against that technology, neither does China, neither does Russia.”
That admission followed a report that China tested a hypersonic missile in August that orbited the globe but missed its target by more than 20 miles. Chinese officials deny conducting a weapons test, but Wood cited the development as a catalyst for a hypersonic arms buildup.
“We have seen China and Russia pursuing very actively the use, the militarization of this technology, so we are just having to respond in kind,” he said.
China maintains that the reported missile test was in fact “a spacecraft” designed to make round trips.
“This was a routine test of spacecraft to verify technology of spacecraft’s reusability. It is of great significance to reducing the cost of using spacecraft and providing a convenient and cheap way for mankind’s two-way transportation in the peaceful use of space,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters Monday. “Several companies around the world have conducted similar tests.”
Intercontinental ballistic missiles “share many similar technologies and processes inherent in a space launch program,” an overlap that U.S. officials and analysts have underscored in the context of Iran’s development of technology that could deliver a nuclear warhead.
“We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in response to the reported test.
While the report suggests that China has developed missiles that can avoid U.S. missile defense systems, some analysts have argued that the latest innovation adds little to China’s ability to strike the U.S.
“China already has ~100 nuclear-armed ICBMs that can strike the U.S.,” Middlebury Institute’s Jeffrey Lewis wrote on Twitter. “A new system to evade our defenses is only threatening if we were planning all along to destroy/intercept China’s ICBMs in a crisis. Which we definitely weren’t.”
Wood, the arms control diplomat, implied that U.S. officials had tried to avoid spurring a scramble for hypersonic missiles.
“We had held back from pursuing military applications for this technology,” he said.