China Recruiting French Military Pilots To Train PLA Aviators For Carrier-Based Ops: French Media

Following revelations that China had recruited former British and Australian fighter pilots to train its Air Force, there are now reports in the French media that several former French pilots have also been instructing the PLA Navy.

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Le Figaro, a French daily newspaper, claimed that Beijing had been actively seeking skilled French instructors for aircraft carrier landings. The media outlet cited a former Super Étendard pilot who served on the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. 

The former pilot was also contacted by a mysterious South African-based company. The New York Times investigation earlier also revealed that China hired former British pilots via a South African-based private flying test company. 

But, French Navy pilots are highly sought-after targets as France is the only country with an aircraft carrier that uses a catapult in addition to the US and China, the report said. 

The communist country currently has a fleet of three aircraft carriers with the ambitions of competing with the US Navy in the Pacific. China’s newly launched Fujian aircraft carrier is equipped with electromagnetic catapults. 

The US Navy also operates an aircraft carrier outfitted with electromagnetic catapults. However, the former French pilot pointed out that “the Americans are beyond China’s reach because their secret services are extremely vigilant.” 

The offered salary is significantly higher than what other Air forces, including those in Qatar, pay their foreign instructors, demonstrating Beijing’s steadfast commitment to expedite the training of its pilots amid rising tensions with the US.

The former navy pilot informed Le Figaro that he was offered a three-year contract by the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA) agency to train Chinese instructors on-site for a salary of about 20,000 euros per month. 

“I almost tried it. This is not a common opportunity to have a fighter in your hands, and here I am offered the handle of a J-11,” he said, referring to the Chinese fighter jet, which is based on the Sukhoi 27.

Shenyang J-11
File Image: Shenyang J-11

The pilot recounted Beijing’s offer to train the Chinese air force and added, “I almost let myself be tempted.” The former Naval pilot eventually decided against accepting Beijing’s lucrative offer after much deliberation. 

He stated that his first reason was “for fear of getting into trouble,” and the second was out of a sense of patriotism. The recent news, meanwhile, demonstrates China’s desperate efforts to enlist Western-trained fighter pilots to employ the same techniques against the US and its allies.

Experts have also raised the possibility that these western-trained fighter pilots may have divulged information on cutting-edge aircraft like the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon to China. 

India also has a fleet of Rafale fighter jets, which observers say are important for countering the Chinese Air Force. The Indian navy also shortlisted the naval version of Rafale fighters – Rafale-M, to operate from its aircraft carriers.

Canada To Start Investigation

The Canadian Department of National Defense is also looking into whether Canadian pilots are now training the PLA Air Force in China. “We are aware of these reports, and we are looking into this further with federal partners,” a spokesperson confirmed the development to Global News. 

“The Security of Information Act applies to both current and former members, and non-compliance with the Act could result in serious consequences,” said Daniel Le Bouthillier, spokesperson of the Department of National Defense.

The Canada-based publication said that if found guilty of an indictable offense under the Act, the sentence could be up to 14 years in jail. If convicted of a crime punishable by a summary conviction, the offender may face up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $2,000, or even both.

Recently, multiple media outlets revealed that China is luring former members of the Western air force with offers of tens of thousands of dollars to get them to train Chinese military pilots.

The British Defense Ministry recently also acknowledged that China recruited up to 30 former Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilots to train Chinese aviators, according to a New York Times citing sources. The former fighter pilots receive up to $270,000 annually.

As reported by 9News this week, China reportedly extended similar incentives to Australian pilots in addition to British pilots. Defense minister Richard Marles instructed the Australian Ministry of Defense (MOD) to look into these reports and issue clear instructions on handling the situation.