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Gen. John E. Hyten arrives for testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

Gen. John E. Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in an interview with CBS News that the Chinese government's hypersonic weapons test last summer could jeopardize the world order's current nuclear balance.

Why it matters, via Axios' Zachary Basu: Weapons experts caution that China's hypersonic missile test is not a technological game-changer in the same way that Sputnik was. But the fact that the breakthrough caught U.S. intelligence by surprise is raising alarms in Washington, especially in the context of the Chinese government's rapid nuclear expansion and military modernization efforts.

  • Hypersonic weapons are harder to detect on radars compared to intercontinental ballistic missiles, which has led to concern about the possibility of a surprise nuclear attack on the U.S.
  • The test last summer launched a missile at more than five times the speed of sound.

What they're saying: "They launched a long-range missile," Hyten, the U.S. military's No. 2, told CBS News in the exclusive interview.  "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 it hit the intended target, he said it was "close enough."
  • "They look like a first-use weapon," Hyten added. "That's what those weapons look like to me."  
  • The test sparked comparisons to Sputnik, the Soviet Union's 1957 satellite launch, which raised alarms that the U.S. was falling behind in the technology race.
  • "Sputnik created a sense of urgency in the United States," Hyten said. "The test on July 27 did not create that sense of urgency. I think it probably should create a sense of urgency."

Between the lines: The pace of China's progress, in tandem with its military aggression toward Taiwan, expansion of nuclear missile silos and broader geopolitical tensions with the U.S., has sparked fears of a new Cold War.

  • The U.S. is developing its own arsenal of hypersonic weapons, according to Hyten, though not as quickly as China.

Worth noting: National security adviser Jake Sullivan revealed Tuesday that Biden asked Chinese President Xi Jinping during their virtual meeting on Monday night to launch talks on "strategic stability." China has previously refused to join talks on arms control with the U.S. and Russia.

Go deeper

Biden threatens Putin

Photo: Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In a video call that lasted for just over two hours on Tuesday, President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if Russia invades Ukraine the U.S. will impose unprecedented sanctions and provide additional weaponry to the Ukrainians, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

Why it matters: Russia's military activity on the border with Ukraine has triggered alarms from the U.S. and its European allies of a potential large-scale Russian invasion in early 2022. Sullivan said Biden made clear to Putin that, "things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now."

California father and son accused of "reckless arson" in Calder Fire

Firefighters at the Caldor Fire along Highway 89 west of Lake Tahoe, California, in September. Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California officials said they arrested a father and son Wednesday on suspicion of starting the Caldor Fire, which threatened the Lake Tahoe area as it burned for over two months earlier this year. They deny any wrongdoing.

Why it matters: The wildfire was the 15th-biggest ever recorded in California, razing more than 1,000 structures, forcing thousands to evacuate and injuring five people as it burned across nearly 222,000 acres of land in El Dorado, Amador and Alpine counties.

New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation with tobacco ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand officials announced Thursday legislative plans to outlaw smoking by making it illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to the next generation as part of a lifetime ban.

Why it matters: "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement announcing the proposed law, part of the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan.