China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons has been more aggressive than the United States’s, the head of the Air Force acknowledged on Wednesday.
Frank Kendall, secretary of the Air Force, appeared in front of the House Armed Services Committee with other Air Force leaders on Wednesday, which is where he made the admission about China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons.
Under questioning from Rep. Matt Gaetz, Kendall explained, “China’s moved to deploy hypersonic weapons more aggressively than the United States, definitely,” adding, “They have fielded more capabilities than we have and they have fairly aggressive development programs.”
“They have invested more and they are more capable, but we need to be careful about these comparisons,” he added.
Kendall is the latest official to detail the U.S.’s status behind China in the hypersonics field. In the fall, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. John Hyten, called China’s hypersonic military program “stunning,” in part because the Chinese military has conducted “hundreds” of hypersonic tests in the last five years, while the U.S. conducted only nine of these tests.
The Chinese military conducted the first fractional orbital launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle last July, and it “demonstrated the greatest distance flown (~40,000 kilometers) and longest flight time (~100+ minutes) of any Chinese land attack weapons system to date,” according to a report titled “Challenges to Security in Space — 2022” that the Defense Intelligence Agency released earlier this month.
China’s military has accelerated the pace of its nuclear expansion program to the point where it could “have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads” within roughly five years, according to the Department of Defense “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” report, which was released last fall.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Deputy Secretary Dr. Kathleen Hicks met with more than a dozen industry leaders to promote the development of hypersonic defensive weaponry in January. Gillian Bussey, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Hypersonics Transition Office, said around the time of the meeting that the U.S. military has “chosen to focus on offense first” in regards to hypersonics “because a good offense is the best defense and offense is a lot easier.”
Weeks after the meeting, the Government Accountability Office released a National Security Snapshot of the pacing challenge with China that found that “China’s growing economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power … pose a significant long-term challenge to the United States.”