House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mike Rogers (R-AL) on Wednesday at a top think tank in Washington said he fears that China has “leapfrogged” ahead of the United States in certain areas.
“China is in the middle of an unprecedented military modernization. I fear they’ve leapfrogged us in many advance technologies like [artificial intelligence] and quantum computing. We know they’ve done so with hypersonics,” he said at the Heritage Foundation’s unveiling of its 2022 Index of U.S. Military Strength.
“The press is reporting China’s recent successful test of a nuclear-capable orbital hypersonic attack vehicle. Meanwhile, we’ve poured money into systems that won’t last minutes in a conflict with China,” he added.
The Financial Times reported last week that China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that circled the globe in low-orbit space before cruising down towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught U.S. intelligence by surprise. The report said:
The missile missed its target by about two-dozen miles, according to three people briefed on the intelligence. But two said the test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realised.
Taylor Fravel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on Chinese nuclear weapons policy, told the FT that a hypersonic glide vehicle armed with a nuclear warhead could help China negate U.S. missile defense systems designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles.
Rogers told the audience at Heritage, “Space-based platforms, unmanned assets, and more distributed logistics capabilities are essential to deterring China.”
On how the U.S. could catch up with China on hypersonics, he said:
The reported capabilities of both Russia and China are very alarming and they lit a fire under us beginning last year. And so we have had increased funding — now this is going to be the fourth consecutive year.
That’s going to enable us to do some catching up. It’s not going to happen immediately, but there’s some classified stuff that’s going on that’s really exciting that I think is going to put us back in a good place really soon. But we should never let ourselves get behind and that wouldn’t have happened if defense spending hadn’t been cut year over year under the Obama administration.
Dakota L. Wood, editor of the 2022 Index of Military Strength, agreed that China is leapfrogging the U.S. in some key technologies.
“It’s because of the difference in conditions. China has basically had a free hand. It hasn’t been encumbered by having its forces involved in Afghanistan and Iraq. It doesn’t provide forces to reassure NATO allies in Europe, none of those sorts of things,” he said, adding:
With state-controlled economies, it can direct what companies do, how they’re going to price it. This kind of command controlled system, without the obligations that the U.S. has, [they] just have a lot more freedom to focus on the development and to harness the power of their academic institutions, especially in advanced technologies like cyber and artificial intelligence.
“China is able to devote all of its time, attention, and resources to developing new capabilities. So they’ve had a free hand to do this with the dramatic wealth that they have accrued from the low cost of labor…They have no environmental considerations,” he said.
“They’ve used that wealth in an unconstrained environment to focus solely on turning the People’s Liberation Army from an inward looking security stability force, to an outward looking power projection.”