China has hired former British military pilots to train its armed forces

  • Around 30 British pilots with military experience are currently working in China for the People’s Liberation Army, as reported by Sky News.
  • The pilots are used to help Chinese pilots hone their skills against Western air forces.
  • The pilots did not break any laws but were advised to stop their work.

Experienced military pilots, veterans of the British army, are in China to train the Chinese armed forces. The pilots were hired for their knowledge of Western air combat techniques and help train Chinese pilots to beat Western air forces. The expertise the pilots are selling will almost certainly accelerate the Chinese Air Force and Navy’s efforts to modernize their training and effectiveness against adversaries, including the US military.

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According to a Sky News report, around 30 former British military pilots are currently working in China. The pilots are “mainly former fast jet pilots but also helicopter pilots”, some of whom are in their 50s. Pilots receive a salary of £240,000, or about $278,000.

Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets fly in formation to form number 70 during a special flypast from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in London June 2, 2022.

PAUL ELLIS//Getty Images

China has a well-developed military pilot program where foreign expertise isn’t exactly needed. Instead, foreigners are training Chinese pilots in Western air combat techniques, providing first-hand knowledge of how the Royal Air Force and other air forces fight.

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Many NATO air forces train against each other in Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) – pitting, for example, US Air Force F-22 Raptors against Eurofighters Germans – allowing pilots to experience the capabilities of foreign aircraft and the skills and tactics of foreign pilots first hand. This friendly formation is invaluable and a major benefit of having military allies.

China’s isolated position in the global community makes DOHC unavailable to Chinese pilots. The United States and Western Europe imposed an arms embargo on China after the June 1989 massacre of pro-democracy students and other protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, preventing China from buying Western military equipment. Although there is no similar policy against the export of training and expertise to China, the country’s growing aggressiveness against US, Australian and Canadian Forces in the South China Seaand against Taiwan, Japanand others have made many governments reluctant to provide military assistance to China in any form.

Former British military pilots were recruited by intermediary companies. Sky News would have identified a company, South Africa Test Flight Academy. The company advertises itself as “the only independent test pilot school outside of Europe and the Americas”. It also says it provides “flight testing and consulting services” and released a statement claiming that the Sky News report is “factually incorrect and misleading”. A request for comment by Popular mechanics remained unanswered.

The Sky News The report says British pilots working in China have been approached and warned that their government disapproves of their new gig, and that the UK is working to dissuade other pilots from taking similar jobs.

chinese air force

A J-16 fighter jet performing in the sky during the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Aviation Open Day in Changchun, northeast China’s Jilin Province, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force.

STR//Getty Images

Ian Easton, senior director of the Project 2049 Institute, says Popular mechanics“The sad reality is that this case is just a drop in the ocean for all those experts of democracies who naively helped the Chinese Communist Party and its armed wing to prepare for a future war of aggression .”

Technically, the pilots are doing nothing wrong: they are not flying for a foreign power, and British authorities believe the pilots did not break the country’s rules. Official Secrets Act.

“Legal loopholes obviously need to be filled,” says Easton. “But, at the same time, steps must be taken to train government and military personnel on the Chinese threat. It’s not just a British problem. It is also an American problem.

Yet many would find it a problem to work to improve the armed forces of the most powerful authoritarian state in the world, which is also preparing for a military takeover of peaceful democracy in Taiwan, and perhaps more. Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that the UK planned to officially designate China as a security threat.