The U.K. says China's troops want to recruit ex-British Air Force pilots for exercise and intel

The U.K. says China's troops want to recruit ex-British Air Force pilots for exercise and intel

October 19, 2022: -China’s military is headhunting ex-British Air Force pilots for their training skills and expertise, and the U.K. government is working to stop it, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence said Tuesday.

“We are taking decisive steps ending Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to headhunt serving and former U.K. Armed Forces pilots to train People’s Liberation Army personnel in the People’s Republic of China,” a MOD spokesperson expressed.

According to a BBC report noted on Tuesday, some 30 former British military pilots are believed to have gone to work for China to train personnel in its People’s Liberation Army. Recruitment is said to ramp up, with former pilots being offered large paychecks to work for the Chinese.

“All serving and former personnel are already subject to the Official Secrets Act, and we are reviewing the use of confidentiality contracts and non-disclosure agreements across Defence. The new National Security Bill will create additional tools to tackle contemporary security challenges, including this one,” the MOD spokesperson added.

While training and recruiting pilots are not illegal under U.K. law, the practice presents an espionage risk as U.K. officials suspect China’s military aims to learn about tactics and operations employed by Western pilots. This knowledge would be handy in a conflict over Taiwan, for instance.

China’s Ministry of Defense was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

The Chinese “can use ‘instructors’ not only to train new pilots, which is also a threat but also as intelligence assets to determine Western strengths and weaknesses,” Dave Des Roches, an associate professor and senior military people at the U.S. National Defense University, stated.

The ex-pilots are also offered large sums of money, with one Western official cited by the BBC saying that paychecks were believed to be as much as $270,000 annually. One former Australian Air Force pilot, speaking to CNBC anonymously due to professional restrictions, said he was offered nearly $1 million a year to work for the Chinese military.

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