When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

China Is Recruiting Former NATO Pilots — Is That OK?

A Parliamentary committee that oversees German intelligence services is questioning Beijing increasing recruitment activities of those who know Western weaponry best. This raises a fundamental strategic question as China-West tensions grow .

German air forces conducting exercises.

A Tornado fighter pilot of the air force squadron 33 from Büchel rolls after the landing on the air base of the tactical air force.

© Rainer Jensen via Zuma Press
Lennart Pfahler, Tim Röhn

BERLIN — The German Bundestag’s Parliamentary Supervisory Committee meets in private. It is rare for any details of the discussions between delegates, who oversee the activities of the German intelligence services, to leak to the outside world.

But in the past week, the Committee very deliberately broke its usual vow of silence. In a public statement, delegates called for stricter regulations for government employees whose jobs relate to matters of security, when they make the move to the private sector.

Above all, the committee said that engaging in work for a foreign power should “automatically qualify as a breach of the obligation to secrecy for civil servants with jobs related to matters of security."

One reason for the unusual announcement: growing concerns about Chinese efforts to recruit former German military and intelligence officers.

In security circles, the word is that the Beijing regime is showing a marked interest in operational and tactical information from the West. Beijing is looking to recruit NATO pilots, with the aim of honing fighting techniques against Western military planes and helicopters. This recruitment often happens via foreign flying schools.

Regulations vary worldwide

The Chinese government’s efforts have long been recognized by other Western states. The British Ministry of Defence announced in October that up to 30 former fighter pilots had trained Chinese pilots in the past – and that they had received an annual salary of around €275,000 for this work.

At the time, no law banned the practice, but it made the authorities nervous. James Heappey, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who said that China was a “competitor that is threatening the UK interest," announced a change to the law. Days later, at the urging of the U.S. government, Australian police arrested a former U.S. fighter pilot who was also accused of training Chinese soldiers.

Both cases involved a South African flying school that is believed to have functioned as a gateway that provided access to Western expertise and staff. The Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), which was founded in 2003, appears to have set its sights on Chinese customers from the outset.

Welt am Sonntag found a company presentation which explains that the company’s U.S.-based predecessor was forced to shut down due to American regulations that prohibited working with China.

UK media reported that Beijing was less interested in training its pilots to fly Western aircraft than in receiving tactical training from experienced Western pilots. In a public statement, the TFASA flying school emphasize that it had never broken the law, and that it had never “actively recruited tutors who had served in the military of a NATO state." But two documents from the flying school show that TFASA emphasized the value of its flight instructors’ NATO experience.

These documents note that all TFASA pilots are “ex-military pilots with extensive operational experience," that their staff include fighter pilots with military training and that the training TFASA offers meets “NATO training standards." The trainers have experiencing piloting, among others, the German Eurofighter aircraft, British BAE Systems Hawk jets and Boeing Apache helicopters.

An abandoned walker outside of a building damaged by Russian military strikes in the Belogrod region.

Damage from a military strike by the Armed Forces of Ukraine on a temporary accommodation facility for displaced residents of the Belgorod Region.

Belgorod Region Governor Press O

Former German air force officer trained Chinese pilots

Die Welt was able to identify one former German air force pilot who had previously worked for TFASA, training Chinese helicopter pilots. He said he worked for around 20 years as a flight instructor in the German air force and was first sent to South Africa in 2003. He described the experience in 2021 in an article for a pilot magazine.

It is common for fighter pilots to take up related jobs after retiring.

At TFASA, he said he gave theoretical and practical training to four Chinese pilots. The Chinese pilots were given, among other things, “an introduction to helicopter stunt flying." The pilot did not respond to requests from Welt am Sonntag to speak about his work.

This case was around 12 years ago, but it shows that there is a lack of awareness about this issue in Germany. There is one problem: according to the law, government employees who formerly worked in sectors relating to security are only required to report their potential new employment in the private sector to the authorities if the job they are applying for is relevant to their government work over the past five years.

If an employee has left their post a long time ago, this obligation no longer applies. But it is common for fighter pilots to take up related jobs after retiring: for many years, jet pilots retired at 41; now, it is common to retire at 50.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defense said that it was “unacceptable” for civil servants or soldiers to pass on expertise related to security to third party states after they finish working for the Ministry or the armed forces. “We will therefore check whether the relevant laws and regulations that are designed to prevent such behaviour are sufficient or whether we need to tighten up our laws,” according to the Ministry.

The spokeswoman went on to say that it was “in our interest that, for example, the incredibly well-trained soldiers of the German air force, who often stop working in their early 40s, find a related job in the army or on the private job market.” Therefore, the Ministry will explore whether it can better support them to do so in the future.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


In The Shantytowns Of Buenos Aires, Proof That Neighbors Function Better Than Cities

Residents of the most disadvantaged peripheries of the Argentine capital are pushed to collaborate in the absence of municipal support. They build homes and create services that should be public. It is both admirable, and deplorable.

A person with blonde hair stands half hidden behind the brick wall infront of a house

A resident of Villa Palito, La Matanza, stands at their gate. August 21, 2020, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Guillermo Tella


BUENOS AIRES – In Argentina, the increasing urgency of the urban poor's housing and public services needs has starkly revealed an absence of municipal policies, which may even be deliberate.

With urban development, local administrations seem dazzled, or blinded, by the city center's lights. Thus they select and strengthen mechanisms that heighten zonal and social inequalities, forcing the less-well-off to live "on the edge" and "behind" in all senses of these words. Likewise, territorial interventions by social actors have both a symbolic and material impact, particularly on marginal or "frontier" zones that are the focus of viewpoints about living "inside," "outside" or "behind."

The center and the periphery produce very different social perceptions. Living on the periphery is to live "behind," in an inevitable state of marginality. The periphery is a complex system of inequalities in terms of housing provision, infrastructures, facilities and transport.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest