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Why are German fighter pilots in China?

Jun 06, 2023

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Former pilots with the German air force are training Chinese fighter jet pilots. The German defense minister is none too happy about it.

During an annual security conference in Singapore, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told his Chinese counterpart that it was unacceptable for the People’s Liberation Army to hire German fighter pilots, and the practice needed to end immediately.

Pistorius said Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu would not be amused if the situation were reversed. The two met for over an hour on the sidelines during the Shangri La Dialogue. Pistorius said the conversation was very open, with both Beijing and Berlin expressing their concerns clearly.

An investigation by German media outlet Der Spiegel found a handful of former Luftwaffe soldiers were recruited to China after their service with the Bundeswehr was over.

German security authorities consider it highly likely the former Luftwaffe pilots in China could have disclosed military expertise and NATO deployment tactics. It’s also possible the German pilots helped their Chinese students practice attack scenarios on Taiwan.

One of the former German pilots was identified as Alexander H., and went by the call-sign “Limey.” He was a Eurofighter pilot based in east Germany before he was recruited to an air base in northeastern China. That airbase is currently home to China’s J-16 flanker multi-role aircraft.

China didn’t break any laws by recruiting the German pilots. Instead, the People’s Liberation Army just offered to pay the pilots handsomely, up to $250,000 a year for their services.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Western pilots helped train Chinese pilots.

Last October, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense revealed dozens of former frontline jet jockeys were in China. The ministry said it would take immediate steps to make sure the PLA couldn’t headhunt British pilots anymore.

Also last year, Daniel Duggan, a former U.S. Marine pilot, was arrested in Australia after allegedly training Chinese pilots how to operate from aircraft carriers. Duggan remains in Australian custody and is awaiting possible extradition to the U.S.

Western intelligence agencies are still trying to determine just how much China was able to benefit from hiring former NATO pilots. Even if no laws were broken, however, there’s no getting over the fact Western pilots know a lot about Western tactics and systems. Therefore, it’s not a great idea for China – the biggest threat to stability and peace in the Pacific – to have access to that knowledge.

Berlin said it’s going to implement more guidelines for pilots after their service, like making sure they are only allowed to work as military trainers in NATO countries or with strategic partners. The U.S., Canada and Australia will likely take similar approaches to close the security loophole.

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FORMER PILOTS WITH THE GERMAN AIR FORCE ARE TRAINING CHINESE FIGHTER PILOTS, AND THE GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER IS NONE TOO HAPPY ABOUT IT.

DURING AN ANNUAL SECURITY CONFERENCE IN SINGAPORE, GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER BORIS PISTORIUS TOLD HIS CHINESE COUNTERPART IT WAS UNACCEPTABLE FOR THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY TO HIRE GERMAN FIGHTER PILOTS, AND THE PRACTICE NEEDED TO END IMMEDIATELY.

PISTORIUS SAID CHINA’S DEFENSE MINISTER, LI SHANGFU, WOULD NOT BE AMUSED IF THE SITUATION WERE REVERSED. THE TWO MET FOR OVER AN HOUR ON THE SIDELINES DURING THE SHANGRI LA DIALOGUE. PISTORIUS SAID THE CONVERSATION WAS VERY OPEN, WITH BOTH BEIJING AND BERLIN EXPRESSING THEIR CONCERNS CLEARLY.

AN INVESTIGATION BY GERMAN MEDIA OUTLET DER SPIEGEL FOUND A HANDFUL OF FORMER LUFTWAFFE SOLDIERS WERE RECRUITED TO CHINA AFTER THEIR SERVICE WITH THE BUNDESWEHR WAS OVER. GERMAN SECURITY AUTHORITIES CONSIDER IT HIGHLY LIKELY THE FORMER LUFTWAFFE PILOTS IN CHINA COULD HAVE DISCLOSED MILITARY EXPERTISE AND NATO DEPLOYMENT TACTICS. IT’S ALSO POSSIBLE THE GERMAN PILOTS HELPED THEIR CHINESE STUDENTS PRACTICE ATTACK SCENARIOS ON TAIWAN.

ONE OF THE FORMER GERMAN PILOTS WAS IDENTIFIED AS ALEXANDER H. AND WENT BY THE CALL-SIGN LIMEY. HE WAS A EUROFIGHTER PILOT BASED IN EAST GERMANY BEFORE HE WAS RECRUITED TO AN AIR BASE IN NORTHEASTERN CHINA. AN AIRBASE THAT’S CURRENTLY HOME TO CHINA’S J-16 FLANKER MULTI-ROLE AIRCRAFT.

CHINA DIDN’T BREAK ANY LAWS BY RECRUITING THE GERMAN PILOTS. INSTEAD, THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY JUST OFFERED TO PAY THE PILOTS HANDSOMELY, UP TO $250,000 A YEAR FOR THEIR SERVICES.

OF COURSE, THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME WESTERN PILOTS HELPED TRAIN CHINESE PILOTS. LAST OCTOBER, THE UK’S MINISTRY OF DEFENSE REVEALED DOZENS OF FORMER FRONTLINE JET JOCKIES WERE IN CHINA. THE MOD SAID IT WOULD TAKE IMMEDIATE STEPS TO MAKE SURE THE PLA COULDN’T HEADHUNT BRITISH PILOTS ANYMORE.

ALSO LAST YEAR, A FORMER U.S. MARINE WAS ARRESTED IN AUSTRALIA AFTER ALLEGEDLY TRAINING CHINESE PILOTS HOW TO OPERATE FROM AIRCRAFT CARRIERS. THAT FORMER MARINE IS STILL IN AUSTRALIAN CUSTODY.

WESTERN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES ARE STILL TRYING TO DETERMINE JUST HOW MUCH CHINA WAS ABLE TO BENEFIT FROM HIRING FORMER NATO PILOTS. BUT EVEN IF NO LAWS WERE BROKEN, THERE’S NO GETTING OVER THE FACT WESTERN PILOTS KNOW A LOT ABOUT WESTERN TACTICS AND SYSTEMS, AND IT’S NOT A GREAT IDEA FOR CHINA–THE BIGGEST THREAT TO STABILITY AND PEACE IN THE PACIFIC–TO HAVE ACCESS TO THAT KNOWLEDGE.

BERLIN SAID IT’S GOING TO IMPLEMENT MORE GUIDELINES FOR PILOTS AFTER THEIR SERVICE, LIKE MAKING SURE THEY ARE ONLY ALLOWED TO WORK AS MILITARY TRAINERS IN NATO COUNTRIES OR WITH STRATEGIC PARTNERS. THE US, CANADA AND AUSTRALIA WILL LIKELY TAKE SIMILAR APPROACHES TO CLOSE THE SECURITY LOOPHOLE.

FOR MORE UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACTS ABOUT GLOBAL MILITARY MATTERS, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS DOT COM.

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