Sen. Lindsey Graham sent a letter to Senate leadership on Wednesday requesting members of the chamber be briefed by the intelligence community and the Defense Department on China’s test-firing of a hypersonic missile, calling the launch a “game changing event.”
“If press reports are accurate regarding China’s test of a hypersonic missile with a nuclear capability, then this is a military game changing event that the United States cannot ignore,” Graham (R-SC) wrote in the letter obtained exclusively by The Post.
In the letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Graham asked them to arrange for a classified briefing by intelligence and Defense Department officials “to assess the reliability of this story” to understand the state of China’s hypersonic weapons program and to produce an “appropriate response to this evolving challenge.”
“I do not welcome this event,” Graham wrote, “if true, because it would set in motion a nuclear arms race between the United States and China.”
He said at the moment, the US has two options.
“We can attempt to convince China to stand down to avoid a nuclear arms race, which is unlikely,” Graham wrote to the Senate leaders, “or we can decide to make the required investments needed to neutralize the advantage a hypersonic nuclear capable missile would provide to China.”
The senator said he views the launch as a “major national security event.”
“But until we know more about the accuracy of the reports concerning the Chinese program, it will be hard to make a decision on the best path forward,” Graham wrote, adding, “Time is of the essence.”
China fired the nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August, a launch that caught the US intelligence community by surprise, the Financial Times reported Saturday.
“We have no idea how they did this,” a person familiar with the test told the publication.
Following the release of the report, the Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, mocked the US for failing to detect the launch.
“If the FT report is to be believed, it means that there is a key new member in China’s nuclear deterrence system, which is a new blow to the US’ mentality of strategic superiority over China,” the editorial said.
“It is important to note the unstoppable trend that China is narrowing the gap with the US in some key military technologies as China is continuously developing its economic and technological strength. China doesn’t need to engage in an ‘arms race’ with the US — it is capable of weakening the US’ overall advantages over China by developing military power at its own pace,” the piece said.
Unlike typical ballistic missiles that fly in a high arc into space before re-entering the atmosphere, hypersonic weapons travel in a low orbit.
They can also be maneuvered while in flight, lessening the likelihood that they will be detected and increasing the speed with which they could strike a target.
The hypersonic missile launched in August circled the globe in low orbit before missing its target by a couple dozen miles, according to the report.
China, which wouldn’t confirm the launch, said the missile was actually a spacecraft.
“It was not a missile, it was a space vehicle,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a news briefing in Beijing, adding the launch was part of a “routine test” to determine whether it could be reused.