Chinese hypersonic missile capabilities discussed by Nikolai Sokov

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The stark warning comes after China launched a nuclear-capable missile on a test flight that circumnavigated the globe earlier this summer. General John Hyten, the second-most senior general in the US military, has now confirmed China launched a long-range missile that “went around the world” before deploying a “hypersonic glide vehicle”. The weapons test took the US by surprise and has highlighted the pace at which China has been expanding its military arsenal – a pace that General Hyten has previously called “stunning”.

Speaking to CBS News, General Hyten said the Chinese missile flew around the globe at five times the speed of sound – Mach 5.

He said: “They launched a long-range missile. 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.”

When asked whether the weapon hit its intended target, the general said it had struck “close enough”.

He went on to liken the June missile test to a “Sputnik moment” in reference to Russia launching the world’s artificial satellite in 1957.

The launch of Sputnik took the world at large by complete surprise and motivated the US to ramp up its efforts in the Cold War Space Race.

General Hyten said: “From a technology perspective, it’s pretty impressive.”

Hypersonic weapons have become something of a game-changer for the countries that possess them.

Unlike conventional missiles, hypersonic weapons are considerably faster, more manoeuvrable and much harder to detect and intercept.

Hypersonic weapons are harder to detect by radar because they travel much closer to the ground.

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China has so far tested two hypersonic weapons – one in late June and one in early August.

During the second test, the weapon was launched into space atop a Long March rocket before cruising down to the planet’s surface.

General Hyten has described it as a “first-use weapon”, suggesting it could be used to launch the first strike if war ever breaks out.

He added: “That’s what those weapons look like to me.”

The Chinese regime has so far admitted to one of the weapons tests but has claimed it has launched a “peaceful” spacecraft.

Analysts have, however, claimed the weapons could be armed with a nuclear warhead.

Taylor Fravel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told The Financial Times such a weapon could help China “negate” the US’s missile defence systems.

As of 2021, China is estimated to possess some 350 nuclear warheads.

But this is in stark contrast to the US, which has some 5,500.

According to figures published by the Arms Control Association, more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal – nearly 13,800 warheads – belongs to the US and Russia.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon acknowledged that the US is pursuing this terrifying new technology.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told a press conference: “Our own pursuit of hypersonic capabilities is real, it’s tangible, and we are absolutely working towards being able to develop that capability.”

He added: “We’ve been very clear about our concerns over China’s advancements in certain capabilities – a wide range of capabilities – capabilities that the secretary noted himself do very little to help decrease tensions in the region and beyond.”

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