A top general issues a warning China may soon launch a surprise nuclear attack on the United States

The US military's second-ranking general has raised concerns about China's weapons development, saying that Beijing may soon be able to launch a surprise nuclear strike against the US.

“They look like a first-use weapon,” Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CBS News Tuesday. “That’s what those weapons look like to me.”

Hyten was speaking about China's hypersonic weapon test this summer, which was originally revealed last month by the Financial Times.

“They launched a long-range missile,” Hyten said. “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 vehicle had hit the intended target, Hyten answered, “Close enough.”

Air Force Gen. John Hyten
Gen. John Hyten, pictured above in 2019, spoke to CBS News on Tuesday about China’s weaponry.
Nati Harnik/AP

President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a virtual meeting on Monday night, which led to Hyten's Tuesday interview. Although Biden voiced alarm about the hypersonic test when the original report was released last month, it was unclear whether the two discussed it.

Since 1964, China has said that it will not be the first country to deploy nuclear weapons in a fight. Despite calls from certain authorities, Beijing has maintained its "no first use" policy, according to the South China Morning Post.

The US has consistently declined to adopt a "no first use" policy, but has stated that it will not use nuclear weapons against countries that do not possess them.

Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping
Gen. Hyten’s comment come in the wake of President Biden’s meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, pictured here on Nov. 15.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Last month, Hyten warned that China could soon surpass America’s military capability “if we don’t do something to change it.” 

“What you need to be worried about is that in the last five years, or maybe longer, the United States has done nine hypersonic missile tests, and in the same time the Chinese have done hundreds,” he said.

“The pace they’re moving and the trajectory they’re on will surpass Russia and the United States if we don’t do something to change it,” Hyten added. “It will happen.”

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described China’s hypersonic test as “very concerning” last month.

“What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system,” said Milley, who later added: “I don’t know if it’s quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that. It has all of our attention.” 

A desert base satellite photo
The above is one of a series of images released by the Pentagon on Nov. 3 suggesting that China is expanding its nuclear force much faster than the US anticipated.
Planet Labs Inc. via AP

Hyten stopped short of agreeing with Milley’s comparison when asked about it Tuesday.

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

The US has started to take some defensive measures in the Pacific following the test and is testing an Iron Dome anti-missile system in Guam.

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