While the US military faces recruiting woes, Beijing is doing just fine in contacting and employing former UK Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots. Recently released documents reveal former British helicopter and fighter pilots have taken employment teaching air-to-air and air-to-ground flying tactics and basic aerial combat skills to PLAAF flying training cadets. For most, the problem with UK pilots steeped in British and NATO aerial combat maneuvers conveying this knowledge to the Chinese is obvious: The retired airmen are training an enemy on how to defeat US, UK, and Indo-Pacific allies.
In an unusual move, the British intelligence agency issued a “threat alert” revealing the retired RAF pilots’ new career choice. The alert resulted from the “…Chinese recruitment of approximately 30 former UK fighter and helicopter pilots to provide adversary training to Chinese military pilots. As dismaying as this news is, the fact that Britain has no legal code explicitly banning its pilots from providing training to China is jolting,” Eric Tegler explained, writing for Forbes. With the growing number of reports of the relentless and strenuous campaign by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to cajole, entice, coerce, or even blackmail talented individuals into assisting the People’s Republic of China (PRC), this revelation is not surprising.
Former UK Pilots Receive Big Pay Days
For a recent retiree, the CCP incentives are hard to pass up, even if it is training an adversary to shoot down your countrymen. Reports of employment contracts worth as much as £250,000-a-year ($281,000) are on the table. It’s not a news flash that the PRC wants to dominate the West economically and militarily. What better way than to copy US, UK, and NATO warfighting tactics, techniques, and procedures? The PLAAF and its recruiting schemes are not so bold as to invite directly potential instructor pilots to come to Beijing to train Chinese. That would be too obvious. There aren’t gold embossed ecru-colored cards announcing, “You are cordially invited to the People’s Republic of China to train the people’s glorious air force on how to engage and kill your former colleagues. Signed Your Pal, President for Life Xi Jinping.” The PRC has a more covert approach. Mark Nicol reporting for the British newspaper Daily Mail described the PLAAF’s devious methods.
“The Chinese use a private flying academy in South Africa to act as an intermediary as any direct approaches to RAF fast-jet pilots by Beijing would be intercepted by the security services…the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), based at Oudtshoorn airfield in the Western Cape province…has made offers to RAF Typhoon, Jaguar and Tornado pilots to relocate to China and become PLA instructors, according to Western officials.”
Job Opportunities with the Enemy May Be Ending
However, in the category of closing the barn door after seeing the hind end of the horse galloping away, the British government is passing legislation making it a crime for UK citizens who are former military members to assist potential enemies. “We’ve approached the people involved and have been clear to them that it’s our expectation they would not continue to be part of that organization…we are going to put into law that once people have been given that warning it will become an offense to go forward and continue with that training,” James Heappey, the UK’s armed forces minister, told Sky News.
Former UK fighter and helicopter pilots are not the only targets of CCP recruitment. Reports from Australian and western countries tell of similar approaches to pilots no longer in the service. It’s certainly understandable how the appeal of flying airplanes you’ve flown throughout your career and getting paid handsomely for the opportunity would be tempting. In the US, companies use the flying talents of retirees working on commercial contracts as flight simulator training and other continuation flight instruction. Arguably, these contract employees are not paid as well as those working for China. It’s just one of those sacrifices to be made working on behalf of your country and not the enemy.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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