Australia’s defence minister said the military was looking into claims that former pilots were taking up training positions in China, while Britain said it would take legal steps to prevent similar recruitment on national security grounds.
The British government announced on Tuesday that it would take action to prevent China from recruiting serving and retired British military pilots to train the Chinese armed forces. According to the BBC, up to 30 former military pilots have gone to train the People’s Liberation Army in China.
Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles said he had asked the defence department to investigate claims that former Australian military pilots had also been recruited to join a South African flight school that operated in China.
“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,” Marles said in a statement.
“I have asked the department to investigate these claims and come back to my office with clear advice on this matter.”
Britain’s Ministry of Defence wrote on Twitter the British pilots involved had been told they risked prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, and a national security bill would provide other paths to prosecution.
The South African company, Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on whether it had hired Australian pilots to work in China.
In an undated advertisement with the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) available online, TFASA said it was seeking a number of fixed wing and helicopter test pilot instructors to work at an undisclosed location in “Far East Asia” with an initial contract commitment of four years.
The requirements included having graduated from military test flight schools in the United States or Britain.
The ad was sent to all SETP members, said one based in Australia, who could not recall the date.
“I don’t know anyone who has gone, but they’re clearly targeting Western/Five Eyes test pilots,” the SETP member told Reuters on condition of anonymity, referring to the intelligence group of Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. “We all go to the schools they listed.”
TFASA also runs a flight school for Chinese airline pilots in South Africa as a joint venture with one of China’s largest state-owned aeronautic companies, AVIC, according to its website.