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WASHINGTON: She’s tasked with tacking the border migration crisis, she’s entrusted with advancing voting rights and workers rights, she’s assigned to bridge the nation’s digital divide, and she has to stay on top of the Covid vaccination program while piloting and selling big ticket legislative items like the infrastructure bill.
Somewhere between all this, US vice-president Kamala Harris also has to keep an eye on the biggest geo-strategic crisis looming before America in generations: As the designated head of the US National Space Council, the challenge arising from China’s stunning lead over US in hypersonic technological capability, acknowledged by leading American generals, has landed on her already full table.
Concern bordering on alarm is permeating through US defense and strategic circles over China’s advances in the field, the authenticity of which no one is questioning. Top US military officials admitted over the weekend that America has “catching up to do very quickly” to match Beijing’s hypersonic capability, while indicating even Russia has taken a lead in the field
“We’re not as advanced as the Chinese or the Russians in terms of hypersonic programs,” Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations, was quoted as saying during his appearance at the Halifax International Security Forum, even as US planners are scrambling to understand how China has stolen a march, and work on countering the challenge.
The journal Politico said Admiral John Aquilino, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told reporters on the sidelines of the forum that “it should be no surprise to anyone that China is developing capabilities that would be viewed negatively by like minded allies and partners.” The US Space Force, he said, is working to “figure out the type of satellite constellation that we need” to track these missiles, and while “it’s a new challenge… it’s not that we don’t have an answer to this challenge. We just have to understand it, fully design it, and fly it.”
Easier said than done. US generals have been expressing concern over what they see as a slow and risk-averse acquisition driven by the bureaucracy, even as China, without the trappings of checks and balances that democracy and legislative oversight bring, has raced ahead. But recent reports of Chinese advances appears to have jolted Washington into action.
The Pentagon announced last week that it has selected Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to research and develop a missile system that would be able to defend the US against a hypersonic weapons attack. The three companies were awarded separate contracts totaling $60 million to develop a glide phase interceptor that would be guided by a constellation of satellites and sensors to intercept a hypersonic missile inside Earth’s atmosphere as it glides towards its target.
Harris meanwhile is reported to have convened the first meeting of the National Space Council — whose executive secretary in charge of day to day functioning is Indian-American Chirag Parikh — on December 1, nearly six months after she took charge, even as Republican and Democratic operatives are duking it out over the tardy US response to the China challenge.
Militaristic right wing circles are torching Democrats for pushing critical race theory and spending money on erectile dysfunction treatments in the military, while so-called “woke liberals” are mocking Republicans for deriding scientists and promoting coal. Meantime, from all accounts, China is racing ahead unimpeded.

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