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By Thursday, 13 June 2024

From Stealth Tech to Fighter Pilots: China’s alleged theft spree continues

In a unified voice, the intelligence allies known as the ‘Five Eyes’ – the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – issued a warning about China’s recruitment activities, describing them as a “constant threat”.

This alert was made public on June 5 by the United States and its intelligence partners.

The bulletin reveals that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is actively hiring ex-fighter pilots from Western nations such as Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and others.

These pilots are being recruited via private firms based in South Africa and China, with the aim of training new pilots for the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and the PLA Navy (PLAN).

A high-ranking official from the National Counterintelligence and Security Centre, a branch of the US intelligence agency, stated, “China’s People’s Liberation Army is on a recruitment spree for Western military expertise to fill their gaps and enhance the training of their pilots.”

In 2022, Daniel Duggan, a former US Marine pilot, was apprehended in Australia for instructing Chinese military pilots on aircraft carrier landings, a violation of US arms control laws.

“Western governments’ recent actions have influenced these operations, yet the PLA’s recruitment strategies persistently adapt,” he stated.

The Pentagon press department, when questioned about the bulletin, asserted that they “anticipate our pilots to maintain the standards they are trained under and to keep their training U.S.-specific.”

The belief is growing that China is enticing former Western pilots with hefty salaries to acquire Western combat tactics, potentially useful in combat situations.

A U.S. official suggested that Chinese pilots could learn a range from air warfare tactics to aircraft carrier landings from Western-trained pilots, providing China with a unique insight into countering Western military strategies.

The bulletin highlighted that the PLA is keen on harnessing the skills and knowledge of these individuals to enhance its military air operations and gain a deeper understanding of Western air tactics, techniques, and procedures.

This acquisition of insight from Western military talent poses a threat to the safety of the targeted recruits, their colleagues, and the security of the U.S. and its allies.

The bulletin warned that this threat is evolving in response to warnings from Western governments to their military personnel and the public, hence the need to continually underscore this persistent, adaptive threat.

Beijing has been using private companies, often hiding their ties to the Chinese military, to lure Western pilots.

These companies approach potential pilots via head-hunters or professional networking sites, offering them attractive contracts and the chance to fly unique aircraft.

The bulletin stated that the primary targets have been military pilots, flight engineers, and air operations centre staff members.

Private firms, with seemingly independent operations in countries like Laos, Singapore, and South Africa, are hiring ex-Western pilots to train Chinese military personnel.

This coincides with the intelligence partners’ alert about China’s escalating military expansion and activities around Taiwan, termed as “retribution” post Taiwan’s recent elections.

Beijing’s claim over Taiwan and threats of forceful annexation add to the concerns.

China’s rapid expansion of its Air Force and Navy is evident from its influence in the Taiwan Strait and the disputed South China Sea.

Despite an increased fighter jet fleet and a third aircraft carrier, the lack of skilled pilots to operate these aircraft with Western expertise raises concerns.

Over the past few years, numerous reports have explicitly stated that China is luring Western fighter pilots from countries like the US, the UK, France, and Germany to train its cadet pilots.

This concern is intensifying as Beijing continues its relentless recruitment efforts.

The conference, named  “The Securing Our Military Expertise from Adversaries,” marked the first occasion where NATO participated in an event specifically designed to counteract the People’s Republic of China’s efforts to employ US and NATO-trained military personnel.

Since 2022, retired fighter pilots from America, Britain, and Germany have been collaborating with the Chinese Air Force and Navy, contributing their expertise to improve their training programs.

In 2022, Daniel Duggan, a former US Marine pilot, was apprehended in Australia for instructing Chinese military pilots on aircraft carrier landings, a violation of US arms control laws.

This vital skill could prove beneficial to the PLA Air Force in significant sea operations against Taiwan, the US, and their regional allies.

The recruits in highest demand are NATO pilots, maintainers, air operations center staff, and other technical experts from various fields who could offer insights into US and NATO air tactics, techniques, and procedures.

In response to Beijing’s campaign, Western countries have been progressively implementing countermeasures.

For example, in June 2023, the US government expanded its list of organizations subject to trade restrictions to include numerous businesses allegedly connected to the Chinese government.

The Test Flying Academy of South Africa and the Frontier Services Group, a corporation owned by the Chinese state, were among those added to the list, both of which were implicated in the recruitment.

Meanwhile, the UK declared in September 2023 that former military personnel who trained Chinese pilots could face legal consequences, including prosecution, for sharing military strategies with a rival nation.

Earlier this year, US and NATO officials held a meeting to strategize on how to thwart the recruitment of alliance personnel by China.

The conference, named  “The Securing Our Military Expertise from Adversaries,” marked the first occasion where NATO participated in an event specifically designed to counteract the People’s Republic of China’s efforts to employ US and NATO-trained military personnel.

The agenda covered a range of topics, including the sharing of best practices, cross-targeting, and strategies to mitigate the growing threat to the security of the US and NATO.

As China strives to compete with its Western rivals, it has caused a stir by infiltrating their stronghold and recruiting their soldiers.

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