Allies warn former fighter pilots not to train Chinese military members

For years, American officials have accused China of stealing American technology to design and build fighter jets. But although China learned to build advanced fighters, its pilots couldn’t fly them as well.

According to US officials, that may be starting to change.

U.S. and allied intelligence officials warned Wednesday that Beijing was stepping up a campaign to lure former fighter pilots from Western nations to train Chinese pilots.

The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – an intelligence-sharing partnership known as the Five Eyes – said in a bulletin that China’s People’s Liberation Army was trying to harness the “skills and experience of these individuals” to Improve your own strategy. air operations.

“To overcome its shortcomings, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has been aggressively recruiting Western military talent to train its aviators, using private companies around the world that conceal their ties to the PLA and offer their recruits exorbitant salaries,” he said. Michael C. Casey, director of the US National Security and Counterintelligence Center

China has been strengthening its air and naval forces, and leaders in Beijing have warned that they could eventually be open to using force to unite their country with Taiwan. U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the findings, say there is little doubt that Chinese fighter pilots appear to be improving.

But officials debate the extent to which the improvement can be attributed to training by foreign pilots versus an increase in the hours Chinese pilots spend in local training programs.

Officials say China’s efforts to attract pilots to train the People’s Liberation Army date back years but have intensified. Britain issued a warning in September after tightening laws against training foreign pilots.

U.S. officials said the Chinese military has established a series of nominally independent training centers in several countries, including South Africa, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. They say the recruited pilots were offered the opportunity to fly a variety of exotic and advanced aircraft and were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their services.

While the pilots may not initially know they are training the Chinese military, it quickly becomes apparent, according to officials briefed on the findings.

Officials did not say how many allied pilots have participated in Chinese military training, but U.S. officials said it was easily dozens. Britain has reported that at least 30 former British pilots have trained the Chinese military. Three former Canadian pilots, seven from New Zealand and a group from Germany have also been accused of training the Chinese military.

In addition to centers in other countries, training has also been conducted in China, according to U.S. officials. In 2022, a Chinese fighter jet crashed and the pilots were ejected. In a videotape of the incident, one of the pilots on the ground is a Westerner who speaks English.

In September, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., then head of the U.S. Air Force but later became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned American airmen not to help the Chinese. “The People’s Liberation Army wants to exploit your knowledge and skills to fill gaps in its military capabilities,” he wrote in a memo to Air Force service members.

Teaching advanced warfare skills to foreign nationals can quickly lead to legal action. In addition to prohibiting the sale of weapons, the Arms Export Control Act also prohibits the training of foreign military personnel without the permission of the US government.

The United States has been trying to put on trial a former Navy pilot, Daniel Duggan, accused of training Chinese pilots.

Duggan was indicted in 2017, accused of training Chinese pilots in 2010 and 2012. But the allegation was not revealed until 2022, when he was arrested in Australia. Duggan denies the allegation and has been fighting his extradition to the United States.

Intelligence officials said the bulletin released Wednesday was intended to discourage current or former service members from participating in training. Casey said such efforts would “put their military colleagues at risk and erode our national security.”

U.S. officials say China hasn’t just tried to learn U.S. and allied air tactics from former pilots. It has also stepped up surveillance of military exercises using drones, balloons and other technologies, efforts that have sometimes led to reports of unidentified objects near military bases.

Pentagon officials have attributed some puzzling sightings of unidentified objects to relatively common drone technology. They say the surveillance, using drones and balloons, is part of Beijing’s effort to learn more about how American fighter jets take off from aircraft carriers and conduct operations.

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