US Cracks Down on Ex-Top Gun Pilots Training China’s Air Force

US Cracks Down on Ex-Top Gun Pilots Training China’s Air Force

U.S. intelligence agencies have issued a stark warning to former American fighter pilots do not assist in training China’s military aviators. A new threat bulletin states China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “continues to target” retired Western pilots, including elite “Top Gun” instructors, to teach aerial tactics like aircraft carrier landings.

According to the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance comprising the U.S.,U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Chinese military has set up front companies, some based in South Africa, to recruit and pay former naval aviators lucrative contracts to train Chinese pilots. These arrangements violate U.S. export control laws.

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Risking Legal Jeopardy

The bulletin cautions that pilots agreeing to train China’s air force “put their military colleagues at risk” and may face legal peril. It reveals the PLA has already improved its skills and gained insights into Western aerial tactics through such covert knowledge transfers.

Recruiting methods have included leveraging old military acquaintances to make introductions, offering “lucrative contracts” to fly “exotic aircraft,” while obscuring that the PLA is the ultimate client benefiting from the training, the agencies state.

Cracking Down on Violations

Highlighting the gravity of the threat, U.S. authorities arrested a retired U.S. Marine pilot, Daniel Duggan, in Australia in 2022 for allegedly breaching export laws by instructing Chinese military aviators in South Africa. Duggan awaits possible extradition to face charges after an Australian court ruling.

By publicly calling out these clandestine PLA recruitment efforts, the Five Eyes allies aim to deter further defections of elite aviators lured by the money and chance to fly again. As one official stated, China is “aggressively recruiting Western military talent” to overcome pilot training shortfalls.

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