Hyten: China’s Hypersonic Test Should Spark Urgency In DOD

Gen. John Hyten
Credit: U.S. Defense Department

China’s test of a fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) and a hypersonic glide vehicle over the summer should have created more of a sense of urgency within the Pentagon, but that has not happened, the No. 2 military officer says.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten, who is leaving his position later this month, told CBS News that China’s test of the long-range missile went around the world and dropped off a glide vehicle, which then glided back to China and impacted “close enough” to its target.

From a technology perspective, the test was impressive, Hyten said. When asked if it should be a Sputnik moment, likening the test to the Soviet Union’s milestone in 1957, Hyten said the reaction within the U.S. has been different.

“But Sputnik created a sense of urgency in the United States … The test on July 27 did not create that sense of urgency,” he said. “I think it probably should create a sense of urgency.”

U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, who first hinted at the test in September, warned the FOBS approach can avoid U.S. defense and missile warning systems instead of a traditional intercontinental ballistic missile trajectory, a major advance for China. 

“They have gone from a few high-value assets near China’s shores to the second and third island chains, and most recently to intercontinental ranges and even to the potential for global strikes from space,” Kendall said. 

During a Nov. 17 press conference, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he has long called China the Pentagon’s “pacing challenge” and the department is concerned about Beijing’s advances. 

“We continue to do everything we can to develop the right capabilities, the right concepts that we think will be necessary and effective in any kind of contest going forward,” Austin said. 

The comments come two days after President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which Biden said it is the responsibility of the countries’ respective leaders that the ongoing competition does not veer into conflict. 

“It seems to me we need to establish some common sense guardrails, to be clear and honest where we disagree, and work together where our interests intersect,” Biden said. 

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.


First there was The Bomber Gap. Then, the Missile Gap. (Of course, there was the Mine Shaft Gap, too!) Please don't let the Military-Industrial (and Political) complex be the only voices in deciding what the threats are and what taxpayers should fund.
Let's be serious. China launches a HGV which misses it target by 24 miles. With this level of accuracy, even with a one megaton nuclear warhead would be be insufficient to guarantee target destruction. The reason that a sense of urgency failed to develop in Washington is that sensible people realized just how insignificant this event was.
Never underestimate the CCP resolve. “Walk softly, and carry a big stick”