China has recruited more than 30 former British military pilots including those who have flown sophisticated fighter jets. UK’s Defence Ministry said that they are being recruited to train pilots of the Chinese Army.
Chinese plans to counter the West and in the worst-case scenario, of a conflict, say over Taiwan, will then have prior knowledge of Western tactics as far as the air war is concerned, reported The HK Post. The UK confirmed that since 2019, former military pilots were being recruited by China. Post the Covid-19 pandemic cases of pilots going to China have reportedly gone up again.
Notably, the hired pilots have experience flying across a variety of aircraft, including Typhoons, Jaguars, Harriers, and Tornadoes, reported The HK Post.
That the Chinese have attempted and perhaps succeeded to a degree in hiring retired air force pilots indicates that more countries could be involved in this espionage effort.
The UK and Australia are already out in the open. The use of South Africa as an intermediary, however harmless, means that China may be using the African continent as a springboard to get retired pilots to China.
In a sense, such activities should not come as a surprise to the West. The West has long been aware of China’s ability to steal technology and then reverse engineer the same, reported The HK Post.
China has today gone one step further by stealing Western manpower in the form of human resources with expertise in aerial combat.
The objective is to train Chinese pilots keeping in mind Western tactics in case of a future conflict. Also, these pilots could possibly fly Chinese fighter aircraft and suggest improvements to enhance combat performance, reported The HK Post.
In October, Australia and the UK began probes into reports that their fighter pilots were planning to take up jobs in China to provide training to the pilots of the PLA air force.
Retired Western air force pilots are reportedly being hired through intermediaries, in this case, a flying academy in South Africa. The UK government approached their pilots and asked them to stop getting involved with China, reported The HK Post.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has stated that it would take steps to prevent its retired and serving pilots from training Chinese forces.
MoD spokesperson said, “We are taking decisive steps to stop Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to headhunt serving and former UK Armed Forces pilots to train People’s Liberation Army personnel in the People’s Republic of China”.
The MoD claimed that China had been luring former British air force pilots with “large sums of money” to pass on their expertise and relevant training to the Chinese military. Some of the packages offered as much as Pound 237,911 (USD 270,000), reported The HK Post.
The UK first became aware of a small number of cases of former military pilots being recruited in 2019, which were dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The Covid-19 pandemic slowed attempts down when travel to China became next to impossible, but the attempts have since increased.
Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles initiated an inquiry into whether his country’s pilots were being recruited by Chinese defence forces. Actions will be taken if systemic weaknesses are found to be putting Australian military secrets at risk, reported The HK Post.
An initial investigation into reports of Australian fighter pilots having been approached by China uncovered enough evidence to justify a more extensive inquiry.
Allegations appeared of former Australian pilots joining the South African flight school mentioned earlier. In October, Australian authorities arrested Daniel Duggan, a former US Marine Corps Officer, following a US request. Duggan runs a business called Top Gun Australia, a private adventure flight company. The arrested officer is reported to have worked in China also, reported The HK Post.