China recruits former Western pilots to find vulnerabilities

A former US fighter pilot has been arrested in Australia over his links to the Chinese armed forces. And he is by no means alone.

Eric van Zwam

Retired fighter pilots are under the scrutiny of Western intelligence services with some appointing themselves as advisers to the Chinese military. China offers lucrative contracts for strategic and tactical intelligence. Western intelligence agencies and governments are wary of this kind of espionage.

Daniel Duggan, 54, was arrested in Australia in October. described as former Better-US Navy pilot. Since then Duggan has become a naturalized Australian. The arrest took place at the request of the Americans. Dogan is subject to the same strict regime as the terrorists. This week his lawyer complained of “excessive” treatment.

So far he has not been charged with anything. American suspicions are confidential. Washington must issue an extradition request by December 20; Otherwise Duggan will be released.

Secret American documents stolen

Duggan left the Navy as a major, and his last job was working as a tactical flight instructor. Around 2014 he went to Beijing. Shortly before his arrest, he returned from China to rural Australia, where he lives with his family. The suspicion that he shared secrets with the Chinese military stemmed in part from his relationship with a former Chinese businessman, Su Bin. The latter was arrested in 2014 for stealing classified US documents containing designs and parts for fighter jets, which he gave to Chinese soldiers. Su Bin confessed and was sentenced to 46 months in prison by a Los Angeles judge.

Duggan and Sue have worked at a South African flight school, the Test Flight Academy South Africa (TFASA), for about ten years. This private flight academy has been in the spotlight as it appears to be recruiting former fighter pilots who have flown Typhoons, Jaguars, Harriers and Tornadoes into the Chinese Air Force.

TFASA will arrange the contracts for the training missions in China. These pilots could teach the Chinese a lot about the offensive capabilities of these aircraft, but also about their weaknesses. So far, no F-35 pilot appears to be involved. The F-35, or JSF, is the newest American combat aircraft, which is also used by the Dutch Air Force.

British search

The British Security Service is now investigating TFASA and its ties to the Chinese military. The British government announced in October that 30 retired fighter pilots from the United Kingdom were serving in China. It’s not prohibited, but the government in London is wary of sharing secrets covered by the Official Secrets Act with a new employer.

The British Ministry of Defense has announced that it will further tighten the law on military secrecy, making it impossible for China to recruit former RAF pilots. The British believed that these pilots knew a lot about aircraft, methods of operation, strategies and tactics. China is very interested in this too because of Western support for Taiwan, which China considers its territory and threatens to seize.

It also rang alarm bells in the New Zealand Armed Forces. Four former pilots now work for TFASA in South Africa. An army spokesperson told the Reuters news agency in October that retired servicemen are free to work anywhere, but that some decisions could have repercussions if they run counter to New Zealand’s national interest.

The relationship has seriously cooled

Relations between China and New Zealand are now greatly strained due to all kinds of conflicts. The four TFASA employees appear to be under investigation by the New Zealand Army as to the nature of their work in China.

Meanwhile, the Australian Ministry of Defense launched a special investigation team to find out if Australian pilots were working for China, and to investigate how China recruited. The Australian Defense Minister Richard Marlis expressed concern Sydney Morning Herald Very worried about the situation. He said he was shocked when ex-Australian soldiers go to work for another country for big money. According to Marlis, it is unacceptable for them to teach Chinese personnel how to shoot down Western aircraft.

Duggan’s attorney said Monday that his client wants his client released as soon as possible in the absence of charges.

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