Former British military pilots are being paid a lot of money to move to China and teach the Chinese military their expertise.
Up to 30 former UK military pilots are on the list.
The retired British pilots will help the Chinese military learn more about how Western planes and pilots work. This could be essential if there is a conflict over Taiwan.
A Western official told BBC, “They are a very attractive body of people to then pass on that knowledge.”
He added, “It’s taking Western pilots of great experience to help develop Chinese military air force tactics and capabilities.”
The practice could threaten British national security.
The pilots know how to fly both jets and helicopters. They come both from the Royal Air Force and other UK military branches. They have flown Typhoons, Harriers, Tornados, and Jaguars.
Some pilots are in their late 50s and have been out of the service for quite some time. Pilots from other allied countries have also been targeted.
The Chinese have not yet been able to hire any pilots who know how to fly the F-35 – the most advanced and expensive fighter jet in the British fleet, although China is thought to be interested.
The contracts pay well, about $270,000 a year. British pilots who retired from active duty several years ago are especially interested. That’s according to a spokesman for the UK Defense Ministry.
The headhunting started in 2019 with a small number of former military pilots being recruited. The pandemic slowed the process, but it has been ramping up lately.
Officials said that these pilots were hired through intermediary headhunters, for example through a flying academy in South Africa.
According to a representative from the UK Defense Ministry, training and hiring pilots is not against UK law, but the UK and other countries are trying to stop people from doing it.
A spokesman for the UK prime minister said that “decisive efforts” are being made to stop headhunting and protect national security.
James Heappey, who is in charge of the UK’s armed forces, said that the country “must change the law” if it doesn’t want to share intelligence with the CCP in the future.
Under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, China was designated as a “systemic competitor.” However, under current prime minister Liz Truss, China would be upgraded to a “threat.”