Australia Orders Defence Probe Into Reports Pilots Trained Chinese Military
Amid reports that up to 30 retired UK military pilots had been recruited to train members of China's People's Liberation Army, Britain's Ministry of Defence wrote on Twitter the pilots involved had been told they risked prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.
Australia's Defence Minister Richard Marles has asked the country's defence department to investigate claims that former Australian military pilots had been recruited to join a South African flight school operating in China.
Amid reports that China's military was employing lucrative schemes to recruit former British RAF jet pilots to help train its own air force, Australia is to probe whether its own pilots were being similarly headhunted.
"I would be deeply shocked and disturbed to hear that there were personnel who were being lured by a pay check from a foreign state above serving their own country. I have asked the department to investigate these claims and come back to my office with clear advice on this matter," Marles said in a statement.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, the former defence minister, said he found the reports "alarming" and that the government would have his backing for legislation to deal with the issue.
"If there is a hole in the legislation now, the coalition will support a change which will tighten it up," he was cited as saying by Australian media.
The headhunting for UK ex-pilots was allegedly carried out by third-party liaisons with ties to a "particular" South African flying academy, according to officials cited by UK media. One official said some 30 mainly ex-fast jet, but also some helicopter pilots, had been lured by annual salaries of around Â£240,000.
The Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), headquartered in Oudtshoorn, was named as the headhunting agency for the Chinese government by an unnamed Western intelligence official cited by Sky News. TFASA offered its clients "qualified fighter and tactics instructors" for hire and In January announced a cooperation agreement with the South African Civil Aviation Authority.
The South African company, did not comment on reports alleging that it had hired Australian pilots to work in China, Reuters reported. In an undated advertisement with the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) online, TFASA reportedly announced it was seeking "fixed wing and helicopter test pilot instructors" to work at an undisclosed location in "Far East Asia."
The requirements the company was alegedly looking for included having graduated from military test flight schools in the United States or Britain. The ad was sent to all SETP members, according to an Australia-based member cited by Reuters.
The United Kingdom warned former military pilots that allegedly train Chinese servicemen of the risk of prosecution, underscoring that it regarded the practice as undermining the UK's defense advantage, in a Defence Ministry (MoD) statement on Tuesday.
The MoD wrote on Twitter that British pilots involved risked prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, adding that a national security bill would also offer "routes to prosecution".
Amid the reports, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin denied any knowledge of such employment of British pilots to train the country's military, saying at a regular press conference that he was "not aware of the circumstances mentioned."
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