Some people will do anything for money – including betray their country, their friends and their families.
The defence establishments of the UK, US, Australia, Canada, France and perhaps other Western nations are reeling from reports that former military pilots have been providing training for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
It gives an ironic new meaning to the term ‘Red’ Arrows.
The fees for the pilots have been described as “life-changing,” in the environs of a million dollars across three years, plus accommodations, maids and fast cars, for translating their taxpayer-funded airmanship knowledge to upskill Chinese pilots who will most likely apply the lessons to shooting down, possibly, former squadron mates and strafing ships staffed by neighbours.
A former US Marine Corps pilot has been detained in Australia for allegedly training PLA pilots, and the US may attempt to extradite him. Daniel Edmund Duggan, an AV-8B pilot, had started a civilian recreational business called Top Gun Tasmania, but in 2014 moved to Beijing and became managing director of AVBIZ Ltd. His Harrier expertise might reflect PRC interest in the rumoured J-18 ‘Red Eagle’ VTOL fighter. One report described him as a ‘former’ US citizen, implying he may have renounced his nationality, which could complicate American prosecution attempts.
In Britain, surprisingly, about 30 ex-RAF pilots, some reportedly from the elite Red Arrows demonstration squadron, don’t seem to have broken any specific current laws for training what is regarded as the West’s most likely peer combatant. That seemed to be changing rapidly when the news came out during Liz Truss’ whiplash tenure as prime minister. Legislation was being proposed to make it a prison-time offence after first warning. One MP called for the rogue pilots to lose their citizenship.
“These potential traitors should be named, shamed and shunned,” railed retired Admiral Chris Parry. “I am disgusted people think taking money for services which improve a totalitarian regime’s ability to prevail against democratic countries is in any way right.”
And yet, “the government of the UK has known for decades” – since 2002 – about the Chinese arrangement with the Test Flying Academy of South Africa, through which the pilots were reportedly recruited. TFASA President Jean Rossouw claims “no laws were broken, no secrets have been leaked.” Surrounded, appropriately, by ostrich farms, the Oudtshoorn-based academy was previously the National Pilot Test School for South Africa, which was shut down in 2003 “due to US pressure” for its China affiliation.
The pilots “don’t want to talk,” according to a ‘friend’: “They have everything to lose, and being identified will bury them. They don’t feel there’s a threat, obviously. The information they teach is very generic. But it is designed to improve the ability of the PLA pilots, so is far from ideal.” The RAF pilots’ experience may include Typhoons, Tornados, Jaguars and Harriers – types of fighters which the Chinese might expect to engage in battle – and they are likely familiar with NATO tactics.
Treason-for-silver is nothing new, of course. A member of the House of Lords fed critical military information to the Japanese for 20 years in the run-up to Pearl Harbor. William Forbes-Sempill, a drinking buddy of Winston Churchill, and British pilot-turned-spy Frederick Rutland secretly helped accelerate Japan’s naval aircraft prowess. But Churchill and the UK government declined out of embarrassment to prosecute the aristocratic Forbes-Sempill, who went on to join pro-Nazi groups.
In Ukraine, the president of the highly regarded defence company, Motor Sich, has been accused of conspiring to supply parts for Russian helicopters through cut-outs in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Vyacheslav Bohuslayev, who retains Russian citizenship, is a long-time Putin and Yanukovych sympathizer who attempted to sell the company to a Chinese firm after the 2014 invasion of Crimea.
Irrespective of existing laws, there are moral principles inherent in any dealings with a foreign power or foreign national (or shady colleague). Individual or government-sanctioned corporate mercenaries should be exceedingly cautious to whom they sell weapons systems, support materials, or training services. Today’s trading partner may quickly become tomorrow’s belligerent, and may turn your naïveté against you. More simply, be damn careful who you get in bed with.