An American ex-pilot was arrested in Australia on October 21 for collaborating with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in training Chinese pilots.
The arrest comes days after Britain warned British ex-pilots offering their air training services to China. Britain said those pilots working with the CCP risked arrest.
According to an exclusive Reuters report, former U.S. Air Force pilot Daniel Edmun Duggan was arrested by the Australian Federal Police in the rural town of Orange, New South Wales. The accused appeared in court on the same day.
Duggan’s lawyer was in court via videoconference, the courts refused bail, and the former driver was transferred to the nearby Bathurst jail, according to Reuters.
Anonymous sources revealed that Duggan’s arrest followed a request made by the U.S. government. Therefore, the next step would be the initiation of an extradition process.
“An individual was arrested on October 21, 2022 pursuant to a request by the United States of America for his provisional arrest,” a spokesperson for the federal Attorney General’s Department said in a written statement to Reuters. “As the matter is before the courts, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”
According to a law enforcement source who was not authorized to speak publicly, Duggan’s arrest would be related to his time in China since 2014.
Daniel Duggan worked as a pilot for the U.S. military for a decade, then moved to Australia, where he founded his own tour flight company Top Gun Tasmania. He hired former U.S. and British pilots to provide flight services in fighter jets.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Duggan was working in Qingdao, China, as a director of AVIBIZ Limited, described as “a comprehensive aviation consulting firm with a focus on the dynamic and fast-growing Chinese aviation industry.”
The PLA is reportedly recruiting ex-military pilots from other countries.
Britain expressed concern over the recruitment of British ex-pilots by the Chinese military and is stepping up efforts to prevent the pilots from being recruited.
As reported by British media, 30 ex-pilots were hired by the PLA in exchange for remuneration of up to $270,000. In addition, the employment contracts were made through an aviation school in South Africa.
“We are taking decisive action to stop Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to recruit serving pilots and ex-pilots from the U.K. armed forces to train PLA personnel in the People’s Republic of China,” a British Ministry of Defense spokesman said.
The ministry also issued a “threat alert” to warn all ex-pilots to refuse recruitment offers.
Australia’s defense minister, Richard Marles, said last week that the government was investigating Australian ex-pilots who allegedly worked for the People’s Liberation Army and were recruited by a flight school in South Africa with the same modus operandi as British pilots.
“I would be deeply shocked and upset to hear that there were personnel who were being lured by a paycheck from a foreign state over serving their own country,” Marles said in a statement.
“I asked the department to investigate these claims and return to my office with clear advice on this matter.”
China needs more qualified pilots
According to specialized military publications in China, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is accelerating its air training programs for new aircraft carriers.
For a decade now, the PLA has been training pilots to operate the Liaoning aircraft carrier launched at sea in 2012. However, a lack of specialized combat trainers has slowed progress.
The PLA has one of the most modern and advanced aircraft carriers in the world, the Fujian. Testing began in the last week of September, requiring 200 qualified pilots. The Fujian can accommodate at least 40 fighter aircraft, plus other control and propeller aircraft.
The carrier’s name, Fujian, was designated for the coastal province off the island of Taiwan. The warship will be assigned to navigate the waters near the Taiwan Strait and aim to counter the U.S. presence in the region.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the new aircraft carrier “is full of challenges, as aircraft design and pilot training are among the most difficult and complicated core technologies in the world, which no one would share with others.”
Yuan Wang, a Chinese researcher from the Beijing-based military science and technology think tank said, “China has tried to learn from all the superiorities of the U.S. military, especially how to train carrier-capable pilots.”
“There is still a long way to go for China’s carrier-based fighter pilots to catch up with their U.S. peers,” Zhou said.
“Chinese pilots in Fujian may need another decade to reach the basic requirement of joint operations combat readiness, and there is still a big gap for China to catch up with the U.S., which has a century of carrier experience.”