Although the United State’s status as a military superpower has served to maintain some sense of global order in recent decades, one lawmaker warned that the tides appear to be taking a troubling turn.
U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) issued his stark assessment during a Fox News Channel interview on Friday, indicating that the U.S. is about “five years behind” China in the pursuit of hypersonic military weaponry.
“Frankly, the Chinese and the Russians just plain got ahead of us,” the senator said.
The primary reason that China has made such notable gains in recent years, King opined, is that the nation’s leaders “don’t mind failing at tests” and push forward with new programs despite experiencing significant setbacks along the way.
In fact, he noted that China’s “series of failures” have provided an opportunity for the communist regime to “learn something” new about how to improve its military capabilities.
“We have this idea that we’ve got to get it exactly right and every test has to be a success,” he said of the prevailing American ethos.
Last month, U.S. officials announced that a hypersonic missile failed to hit a target during a test off the coast of Southern California. According to the Missile Defense Agency, the mission was intended to take out a missile launched on the Kwajalein Atoll, which is located some 4,000 miles away.
The Pentagon acknowledged the failure and confirmed that “officials will conduct an extensive review to determine the cause or causes of any anomalies which may have prevented a successful intercept.”
In addition to four interceptors located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the U.S. military also maintains 26 at Alaska’s Fort Greely. Earlier this year, the Pentagon announced a billion-dollar plan to add 14 more in Alaska as part of a response to North Korean nuclear weaponry advancements.
There have been a handful of such tests conducted this year in California, but a failed mission in 2010 led to a pause that lasted more than a decade. As King explained, America’s apparent willingness to give up after setbacks has allowed China and Russia to take the lead.
He cited Britain’s development of the longbow in the 15th century as a central reason for its defeat of France during the Battle of Agincourt, noting that the U.S. currently finds itself in a similar situation.
“Technological developments often determine the outcome of conflict,” the senator said, describing hypersonic technology as “the game-changing strategic difference in any future conflict that this country is engaged in.”
In reference to a successful test of a Chinese hypersonic vehicle that circumnavigated the globe last year, King confirmed that “it scared the hell out of everybody,” noting that if such a glider “is dwelling over Kansas City, you’re talking you’re reducing 15 to 20 minute sto two or three minutes.”
One potential bright spot in the U.S. program came last week with a successful test involving a new hypersonic craft created by Lockheed.
Earlier this year, King brought up the same topic during a confirmation hearing for Assistant Defense Secretary John Plumb, who agreed with his concerns.
“It certainly appears that we are behind,” Plumb replied.