Former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots are being recruited by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to pass on expertise about western aircraft and tactics, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced.
Up to 30 ex-RAF pilots are thought to have been hired to train PLA personnel, the MoD said in a statement issued to the BBC.
While the training does not breach UK law, The Guardian noted in a report, UK defense intelligence officials have issued a rare “threat alert” in an attempt to mitigate the risk and deter pilots from joining China’s efforts.
The PLA could have offered the pilots monetary packages of up to £237,911 ($270,000), an unnamed official told the BBC.
According to another official, who was interviewed by Sky News, a South Africa-based Test Flying Academy and a network of third-party personnel were used to headhunt the pilots.
These reports also added that pilots from other NATO countries have also been targeted by the PLA, an effort that has been ongoing for a number of years. However, these efforts have ramped up during recent months, the BBC stated, referring to sources from within the MoD.
Pilots who used to fly Eurofighter Typhoon, SEPECAT Jaguar, Hawker Harrier and Panavia Tornado fighter jets and strike aircraft, as well as various military helicopters, are known to have been recruited by the PLA, British media reported.
No Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II pilots have been recruited so far, although China has an interest in them, the MoD claimed.
“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,” an MoD spokesperson said, as reported by the BBC.