China’s military development capabilities are “stunning,” while the United States has been hampered by bureaucracy, according to the second most senior U.S. general.
Gen. John Hyten, the outgoing vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s characterization that China is the U.S.'s “pacing threat” on Thursday.
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"Calling China a pacing threat is a useful term because the pace at which China is moving is stunning," Hyten told reporters at a Defense Writers Group roundtable. "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. It will happen. So I think we have to do something."
"It's not just the United States but the United States and our allies because that's the thing that really changes the game," he added. "If it's the United States only, it's going to be problematic in five years. But if it's the United States and our allies, I think we can be good for a while."
Hyten’s comments about China come in the wake of the foreign military’s execution of a hypersonic missile test.
A day before Hyten’s remarks, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the hypersonic test was “very close to” a “Sputnik moment.”
The Financial Times reported earlier this month that China had “tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile” that “circled the globe before speeding toward its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught U.S. intelligence by surprise,” citing unnamed sources “briefed on the intelligence.”
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian rejected the report days later, saying that the test, which occurred in August, was “a spacecraft, not a missile.”
Hyten said the U.S. has carried out nine hypersonic tests in the last five years compared to the Chinese who “have done hundreds.”
"Single digits vs. hundreds is not a good place," he explained. "Now it doesn't mean that we're not moving fast in the development process of hypersonics. What it does tell you is that our approach to development is fundamentally different."
Hyten is set to retire last month and his successor has not been selected, though he warned that whoever is chosen should “focus on speed and reinserting speed back into the process of the Pentagon.”
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"Although we're making marginal progress, the Department of Defense is still unbelievably bureaucratic and slow," Hyten said. "We can go fast if we want to, but the bureaucracy we put in place is just brutal."
He also said that Russia poses the most imminent threat to the U.S. given they have more than 1,500 deployed nuclear weapons, while China has roughly a fifth of that number.