March 30, 2023

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China tempts British pilots, are the Dutch also vulnerable?

China tempts British pilots, are the Dutch also vulnerable?

Ministry of Defense

NOS . News

  • Robert Chesal

    Overseas Editor

  • Robert Chesal

    Overseas Editor

China recruits The BBC reported this morning that former British Air Force pilots to train their fighter pilots. The surprise in this is great among Western soldiers, politicians and experts. In the Netherlands, the first parliamentary questions have already been asked.

As far as is known, thirty British pilots went to China, where they train fighter pilots on what to expect when fighting British, as well as American and Dutch pilots. A Dutch Air Force officer is very concerned about this. With this, we lose part of our tactical and technical leadership.”

“This is a surprising and disturbing announcement,” he says. Patrick BoulderLieutenant Colonel Wright of the Dutch Air Force. It has been in service for nearly forty years and has never heard of other Dutch or Western pilots lured by China. He thinks it’s a weak point. “You are warned when you are on duty to be alert. You are checked for your communications with countries like China and Russia. But after your service you are no longer subject to this system.”

The recruitment of British pilots cannot be separated from China’s leaps in modernizing and developing its armed forces. With huge spending, Beijing is expanding its military hardware, for example, with the latest equipment aircraft carriers. In addition, training is urgently needed, because the West is very advanced in terms of combat experience.

The element of surprise is missing.

The word bolder immediately refers to the tense situation around Taiwan, where China has recently demonstrated its military might. “If the Chinese pilots attack there and know in advance how their opponents will react, the Americans and Taiwanese lose the element of surprise. Often this is the most important thing: that you can mislead your opponent.”

In response to the BBC post, the D66 asked parliamentary questions:

Vice-Admiral Ben Pickering of the Royal Dutch Navy was also surprised by China’s recruitment practices. “I was not expecting this. I know that China is working hard to gain high-quality technical and military knowledge from the West. But they attract the old military with money, and people are guided by that, I am amazed.”

“British people often go to work abroad after their military career,” Pickering says. “But they do it in countries like Oman, not immediately for a strategic competitor. In the Netherlands, I know from my time in the service that these kinds of practices are discussed at a university level, but there is no list of countries they are not allowed to go to.”


A display showing Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution in Beijing earlier this month

Despite all the annoying noise, it is not immediately the case that Dutch pilots with a lucrative offer will be easily drawn from China, predicts Bas Rettgens, professor through a special assignment to Intelligence in War and Conflict at Leiden University. “A Dutch F-16 pilot gets paid well and then gets a big pension, so I don’t expect that to happen any time soon.”

But some Dutch pilots don’t stay with the defense organization until they retire, and herein lies the weak point, says Air Force officer Boulder. “£240,000 is a lot of money, more than you earn as a commercial pilot. If you stop working as a fighter pilot at the age of 40 you have to wait until you are 60 to get your pension. In between you can work for KLM or another airline,” But this market is closed due to Corona. Then the Chinese come up with an interesting offer. And if you still have to pay your mortgage and your kids study, that can be tempting.”

Boulder points out that there is no legal obstacle for ex-soldiers against working in China. “What is holding you back, other than patriotism at most?”