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How China is secretly headhunting foreign pilots to train its air force

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A month after the United Kingdom (UK) government issued an alert stating that is headhunting former and current military pilots and recruiting them to train the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, has also reported similar incidents. As reported by Bloomberg, Australia’s Defence Department has found “enough evidence” to initiate an investigation into the issue.

As reported by BBC in October, has been luring the former British military pilots with “large sums of money” to pass on their expertise and relevant training to the Chinese military.

“It is a lucrative package that is being offered to people,” an official told BBC. The packages are high as $270,000 in some cases.

How is recruiting officials from other countries?

In 2019, several reports started emerging in the about recruiting former military pilots on a case-by-case basis by China. The cases went down during the Covid-19 pandemic when travel to China was almost impossible. However, once the restrictions were lifted, the cases have gone up again.

The hired pilots have experience flying across the military with varied jets, including Typhoons, Jaguars, Harriers, and Tornadoes. According to BBC, most pilots are believed to be in their 50s and have left the armed forces some time ago.

The report added that they are targeting pilots from other allied nations as well.

According to reports, the recruitment is done through intermediaries, and a flying academy in South Africa is said to be involved. The government reportedly approached the pilots and asked them to stop getting involved with China.

“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, while the new National Security Bill will create additional tools to tackle contemporary security challenges – including this one,” a spokesperson of the UK government told media in October.

However, Chinese officials have stated that they were unaware of such incidents.

Following the UK government, the Australian government told Bloomberg they were taking “immediate steps to deter and penalize this activity”. However, no particular timeline has been mentioned.


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