Defence is to launch an investigation into UK newspaper claims that ex-air force pilots are training the Chinese armed forces in aircraft such as Typhoons, Jaguars, Harriers and Tornados.
The Times of London on Tuesday reported that former RAF personnel were being paid $430,000 (AUD) a year to help China “develop its tactics and technological expertise”.
The Australian then subsequently revealed that RAAF veterans were part of the Western cohort of 30 who were approached through a South African flight school acting as an intermediary.
Defence Minister Richard Marles said he would be “shocked and disturbed” if pilots placed being “lured by a paycheck 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,” Minister Marles said.
The “Western official” who briefed The Times revealed that those who had taken part were “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,” the source said.
The official added that the recruitment campaign began three years ago but has now restarted following the end of many COVID restrictions.
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said anyone caught taking part in the training would be prosecuted.
“We’ve approached the people involved and have been clear of them that it’s our expectation they would not continue to be part of that organisation,” Minister Heappey told Sky News.
“China is a competitor that is threatening the UK interest in many places around the world. It is also an important training partner, but there is no secret in their attempt to gain access to our secrets, and their recruitment of our pilots in order to understand the capabilities of our air force is clearly a concern to us and the intelligence part of the MoD.”
The Times has subsequently reported that officials in the UK Ministry of Defence are also investigating whether Beijing targeted personnel from the army and navy, too.
It comes after Australian Aviation reported in June how a Chinese J-16 cut across the nose of a RAAF P-8 Poseidon in what Defence called a “dangerous manoeuvre” that was a safety threat to the Australian crew.
The incident took place on 26 May over the South China Sea and saw the fighter jet accelerate so close to the Australian aircraft that a “bundle of chaff” was ingested into its engine.
Minister Marles said the P-8 returned back to base safely but added the incident would not deter the RAAF from continuing to fly over the disputed area.