Now the No. 2 man in the U.S. military is pointing to those tests and other moves by Beijing to warn of the potential for surprise nuclear attacks down the road from the Sino government.
Reports revealed last month that over the summer China launched multiple tests of hypersonic missiles capable of circumnavigating the globe while carrying nuclear payloads. According to sources, U.S. intelligence personnel were caught off-guard by the tests.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten saw the tests and other efforts by China and revealed to CBS News this week that the U.S. should be concerned about a possible surprise nuclear attack.
"They launched a long-range missile," the general told CBS News. "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 if the vehicle hit its intended target, Hyten replied, "Close enough."
Hypersonic missiles are harder to track than intercontinental ballistic missiles. ICBMs travel in an arc that can be followed and predicted by long-range radar, while hypersonic weapons fly lower to the earth and can evade detection.
"That's a very significant capability that has the potential to change a lot of things," he told the outlet. "So we have to be very concerned about that."
Hyten warned that the hypersonic missiles appear to be a "first-use weapon," adding, "That's what those weapons look like to me."
The general also revealed that the Chinese hypersonic tests aren't new. According to Hyten, China has conducted hundreds of hypersonic tests over the last five years compared to just nine tests by the U.S. military.
He also said that the Chinese have already deployed a medium-range hypersonic weapon, according to CBS News, while the U.S. remains a few years away from deploying its first such weapon.
Combined with China's efforts to construct hundreds of new missile silos, Hyten said he believes Beijing could eventually have the capacity to conduct a surprise nuclear attack on the U.S., CBS News reported.
"Why are they building all of this capability?" Hyten asked.
The general also noted that for some reason the summertime hypersonic failed to create a "sense of urgency." This laissez-faire attitude was reflected in White House press secretary Jen Psaki's statement following initial reports of the summer's surprise hypersonic tests. According to Psaki, the people in the Biden administration "welcome stiff competition."
Hyten seems to have a slightly different take.
"I think it probably should create a sense of urgency," he said, according to CBS News.
CBS News Exclusive: Senior U.S. general on China's military buildup www.youtube.com