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Ex-Pilots of Germany's Air Force Officers Involved in Training China's Military, Reports Says

 

Germany's Defence Minister Boris Pistorius meets with his PRC counterpart General Li Shangfu at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 3rd 2023. Photo by Germany's Defence Ministry via Twitter.

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Former officers of Germany's armed forces (Bundeswehr) have been working for years as trainers for the air force of the People's Republic of China (PRC), according to a joint media report by German public-service broadcaster ZDF and the magazine Der Spiegel. 

Several former German air force officers are allegedly employed as trainers for the PRC military. These include two Eurofighter instructors and a Tornado pilot, only identified as Peter S., Alexander H., and Dirk J. All three know NATO's secret deployment tactics, the report states.

The Intelligence Services Oversight Committee of the German Parliament (PKGr) has been monitoring the possible employment of former German military officers in the PRC army with alarm. 

“We are concerned that after being employed by the German state, servicewomen and men may end up in employment circumstances where they could reveal state secrets,” Konstantin von Notz, a Green party lawmaker and chairman of the PKGr, told ZDF. 

The German Ministry of Defense declined to comment on specific cases, but confirmed that the PRC is trying to recruit former NATO pilots as trainers through external agencies, adding that this could lead to "relevant tactics, techniques and procedures" being revealed to the PRC military. 

The three men mentioned in the report founded consulting firms in the Seychelles after leaving the Bundeswehr. German air force fighter pilots usually end their career at the age of 41 due to loss of eyesight and slowing reflexes. They only receive 50 percent of their salary as pension. For this reason, many ex-pilots work at private aviation schools to supplement their income. 

Peter S., Alexander H. and Dirk J. were recruited as "aviation consultant contractors" by a Beijing-based company named Lode Technology Ltd, according to an email dated March 8, 2016. 

One of the shareholders of Lode Technology Ltd. is Su Bin, a PRC citizen who was indicted by the United States Department of Justice in 2014 on charges of taking part in a criminal conspiracy to “steal military technical data, including data relating to the C-17 strategic transport aircraft and certain fighter jets produced for the US military.” 

Su Bin was arrested in Canada in July 2014 on a warrant. He waived extradition and consented to be conveyed to the US in February 2016. On March 23 of the same year he pleaded guilty to participating in a years-long conspiracy to hack into the computer networks of major US defence contractors, steal sensitive military and export-controlled data and send the stolen data to the PRC. 

On June 3rd, Germany's Defence Minister Boris Pistorius met with his PRC counterpart General Li Shangfu at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an international defence summit, in Singapore

“I made it clear that I expect this practice [of hiring former Bundeswehr officers] to end immediately and made it clear to him that he would certainly not be amused if I tried to do the same myself,” Pistorius told the press after the meeting. He added that Li "didn't deny it, but downplayed its significance from his perspective.”

The chairwoman of the Parliamentary Defence Committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, urged the German government to implement stricter rules. 

“Those who receive their training and pursue their career in the Bundeswehr may well share their knowledge within the NATO alliance, but certainly not with countries like China,” she told ZDF. 

Roderich Kiesewetter of the Christian-Democratic Union (CDU) stated that the PRC is “spying on the tactics and defence strategies of NATO countries” by employing former military officers.

“We have to be aware that China is using the know-how of ex-pilots from Great Britain, Germany and other NATO countries to purposely acquire NATO air attack and defence techniques, and that China is no longer concealing its intentions to attack Taiwan with such measures,” he said.

In April 2023, the PRC military completed three days of large-scale combat exercises around Taiwan that simulated sealing off the island, and declared that it is “ready to fight”. Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to use force to annex it. 

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