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At least 30 former RAF pilots have been hired by the Chinese Air Force to demonstrate NATO military tactics and how to defeat them.
The retired fast jet and helicopter pilots have reportedly been lured by sums of about $270,000 (currently around £240k) a year since the start of the pandemic.
The pilots are being paid by an independent specialist aviation company called the Test Flying Academy of South Africa, which describes itself as the “only independent test pilot school outside Europe and the Americas”.
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Concern about the brain drain to the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is so great among NATO chiefs that officials from the Ministry of Defence have been forced to issue a threat alert, asking retired RAF personnel to turn down the lucrative job offers.
“In supporting this training, these personnel are almost certainly enhancing China’s military knowledge and capability. Without us taking action, this activity would almost certainly cause harm to the UK and our allies’ defence advantage,” a Western official told the Times
The pilots were being used to assess the capabilities of NATO aircraft and the tactics used by western pilots, in order to develop effective countermeasures.
“We have world-class people, along with our allies, so they are very attractive people to them,” they said.
The pilots recruited so far are not believed to have breached the Official Secrets Act, the MoD source said.
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An MoD spokesman said: “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.
“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.”
In addition to the 30 former RAF personnel, China is understood to be reaching out to retired flyers from other Western nations, often using business networking site LinkedIn to make an initial approach.
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