The US has been developing hypersonic missiles for years, though US military officials are warning that China, and potentially also Russia, may be pulling ahead.
A few days ago, Russian officials said the military fired a hypersonic cruise missile from a warship that hit its test target in the Arctic.
“We’re not as advanced as the Chinese or the Russians in terms of hypersonic programs,” said Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations, at the Halifax International Security Forum this weekend. The US has “catching up to do very quickly.”
To catch up, on Friday, the US announced it was putting more than $60 million (£44m) towards developing weapons to protect the country from hypersonic attacks.
Over the last five years, China has conducted hundreds of hypersonic tests, whereas the US has carried out only nine, John Hyten, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week on CBS News.
China appears also to be building out large missile silos across the country, based on analysis of satellite images.
Beijing’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric, coupled with apparently increasing military prowess, has led to concerns that physical conflict could erupt.
China previously dismissed reports of the hypersonic missile test, saying instead it was part of national space research efforts.
The government has also always claimed that its military programme is only meant to ensure peace and stability especially in its own territory. The challenge, however, is that Beijing lays claim to disputed areas considered international waters, and entire swaths that belong to other nations.
Leader Xi Jinping has made it a priority to modernise the country’s military, plunging billions into developing new weapons.
China’s defence budget for 2021 was publicly stated at 1.36 trillion yuan (£160 billion), though experts generally believe that it spends far more than it discloses.
Defence experts have long highlighted that the Chinese military’s biggest shortcoming is a lack of combat experience, making it hard to know just how soldiers would perform if under pressure in the field.