'We'll tighten law to stop UK pilots training Chinese air crews to defeat Western fighter jets', minister tells LBC

18 October 2022, 08:34 | Updated: 18 October 2022, 08:36

The law will be tightened to stop UK pilot veterans from unwittingly training Chinese airmen
The law will be tightened to stop UK pilot veterans from unwittingly training Chinese airmen. Picture: Getty/LBC

By Will Taylor

Tighter laws will stop British former pilots from training up Chinese air crews, LBC has been told.

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Armed forces minister James Heappey said he had been aware for some years that UK veterans were helping the People's Liberation Army.

The BBC reported that up to 30 former pilots from across the military had been training air crews in China and the Ministry of Defence [MoD] had issued an alert warning against them taking part.

There were fears the Chinese could be better taught how to shoot down Western aircraft.

Mr Heappey told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "I've been aware of it for a number of years. Our counter-intelligence team from Defence Intelligence had been working on it to speak to those involved and be clear with them that what they're doing is not something that we support and we would prefer they weren't.

Read more: Eleven Russian soldiers shot dead in attack on training base near Ukraine border

"What they were doing was not illegal unless of course they explicitly compromised secrets that are under the Official Secrets Act and there is no evidence that they have, but nonetheless we are going to strengthen the law through the National Security Bill to make sure that when people are told that they shouldn't be doing what they're doing it becomes an offence if they then continue to do it."

Armed Forces Minister on RAF pilots being recruited by China

Some of the payments reported to have been offered to pilots have been worth as much ad £237,911.

They are being used to help the Chinese understand how Western planes and pilots work, which could help in any future conflicts, such as against Taiwan, which Beijing views as a breakaway province.

"I think that a lot of them have probably entered into these arrangements in good faith, some of them unwittingly is what we've heard back.

"That they weren't clear, the company involved does not say "The PLA Air Force training academy", it's named something slightly more euphemistic.

Read more: UK to send anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine after wave of Russian rocket attacks

"So I think when we told them of what we believe the consequences of their actions to be most have been concerned to reassure that they are not betraying secrets.

"But look, Nick, we don't want our pilots and crucially those who are familiar with some of our most sensitive capabilities to be working for a foreign power that we consider to be a competitor.

"And in some cases, a competitor that is acting in a malign way to challenge the UK's interests. We would prefer they didn't do that and we're going to strengthen the law to make sure they can't."

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