Last October, the British Ministry of Defense [MoD] put on the public square a subject which was then only mentioned lip service, given its sensitivity. Indeed, he announced his intention to modify the legislation in order to prohibit the recruitment by China of former pilots of the Royal Air Force [RAF]of the Fleet Air Arm [aéronavale, ndlr] and the Army Air Corps.
The People’s Liberation Army is looking for “Western pilots with great experience to help it develop tactics and the capabilities of its air forces”, said a British official, quoted by SkyNews. “All former pilots who have accepted such a job contribute to improving China’s military knowledge and capabilities,” he said.
To recruit former British pilots through the company “Test Flying Academy of South Africa”, Beijing does not hesitate to pay the price, the annual salaries offered can reach 240,000 pounds sterling per year. But this phenomenon does not only affect the United Kingdom. The United States, Canada and France are also concerned… As well as Germany, to the point that its Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, questioned Li Shangfu, his Chinese counterpart on this question, on the sidelines of the Shangri- The Dialogue, a forum held every year in Singapore, on June 3.
“I brought up the issue of German pilots in the Bundeswehr who apparently were recruited to train Chinese pilots,” Mr. Pistorius said after speaking with Mr. Li. that I expected this practice to stop immediately and told him that he himself probably wouldn’t be very happy if I tried to do the same myself,” he added.
However, admitted Mr. Pistorius, if his interlocutor did not deny this practice, he “put the scope of his point of view into perspective”.
According to revelations from the weekly Der Spiegel and the ZDF television channel, former Luftwaffe pilots have been recruited by the People’s Liberation Army as instructors for several years. And their wages [juteux] would pass through front companies registered in the Seychelles.
“We are concerned that soldiers, after having worked for the German state, may have jobs that lead them to betray state secrets”, commented Konstantin von Notz, the chairman of the control committee of the intelligence services of the Bundestag [chambre basse du Parlement, ndlr]at the ZDF.
“It is absurd that former Luftwaffe soldiers can train fighter pilots in China. We cannot tolerate this, ”was indignant MP Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the Defense Committee. “It is time for this German naivety to stop”, she insisted because the “fact that we are indirectly helping China to modernize its own air force is unacceptable”.
That said, for Mr. Pistorius, it is first a question of examining “carefully” the individual cases of former German pilots who have given in to the song of the Chinese sirens… before punishing “any violation of the rules”.
“The military can engage in other activities after their time in service, but within the framework of our laws and their obligations. The facts must first be clarified and only then stricter rules or laws can be discussed,” the German minister said.
France not being spared by this phenomenon, the deputy Jean-Louis Thiériot had questioned, in November, the Ministry of the Armed Forces, via a written question which has still not had an answer to this day. Then he tabled a bill to establish a commission within the General Directorate of External Security [DGSE] which would be responsible for “monitoring the commitments in the service of a foreign entity or a foreign State of former soldiers of the French army with the establishment of a specific procedure for prior authorization”.
Finally, last week, the deputies adopted article 20 of the military programming bill [LPM] 2024-30. This text contains a provision which will not only concern former pilots since it will apply to soldiers who have exercised “duties presenting a particular sensitivity or requiring specialized technical skills”.
Once returned to civilian life, they must notify the Ministry of the Armed Forces of their intention “to carry out an activity in exchange for a personal advantage or remuneration in the field of defense or security in the benefit, directly or indirectly, of a foreign State or of a company or organization having its headquarters outside the national territory or under foreign control”.