The top U.S. military officer has confirmed reports that China tested a hypersonic weapons system, calling the test a “very concerning” development reminiscent of when Russia launched the world’s first artificial satellite in the 1950s.

“What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system. And it is very concerning,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “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.”

The Financial Times first reported on China’s hypersonic weapons test, citing anonymous officials who said the summer test had caught U.S. intelligence officials by surprise. The orbiting weapon, a hypersonic glide vehicle launched on a rocket, is reportedly capable of carrying a nuclear payload. 

Even though the weapon missed its target by several kilometers, the July 27 test marked the first time any country had sent a hypersonic weapon fully around the Earth, according to FT. Hypersonic weapons travel faster than five times the speed of sound.

China has denied it carried out a hypersonic missile test, saying it actually tested a reusable spacecraft.

Milley also said the U.S. was experimenting with its own weapons, including hypersonics, artificial intelligence and robotics, but added that the Chinese military will become “very significant” on the horizon.

The Chinese military “have gone from a peasant-based infantry army that was very large in 1979 to a very capable military that covers all the domains and has global ambitions,” Milley said. 

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