US, NATO Concerned About China Recruiting Their Service Members

USAFE-AFAFRICA describes China’s recruiting effort as an ‘emerging threat to U.S. and NATO security.’

China has targeted NATO countries looking to recruit their current and former service members, according to Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa (USAFE–AFAFRICA).

Gen. Hecker, also the commander of NATO Allied Air Command, commented on the Chinese regime’s recruitment efforts on Feb. 12 during a media roundtable at the Air & Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium in Colorado, according to Breaking Defense.

“There have been successful attempts” of the regime’s recruitment “from multiple nations. It’s a lot of NATO nations,” Gen. Hecker said. “But the good news is, we found out about this fairly early on.

“And we’ve had successes in getting some of the pilots that were involved in that kind of stuff—we’ve been able to bring them back. Mostly willingly, depending on the nation.”

Without naming any country, Gen. Hecker said some nations had to change their law to bring back some of their service members.

The United States and NATO have started a public awareness campaign, he said, but it “hasn’t stopped” Beijing’s recruiting effort.

“So we continue to pound the drum to make sure that everybody that’s retired military, and particularly pilots, that they’re aware that this effort is ongoing, and that it’s unacceptable,” Gen. Hecker said.

According to a USAFE–AFAFRICA statement, he told reporters at the Warfare Symposium that the command’s five operational focus areas are “countering an adversary’s anti-access area-denial capabilities, integrated air and missile defense, intelligence and information sharing, command and control, and agile combat employment.”

“I came up with five priorities about six months after I took command, and those haven’t changed,” Gen. Hecker said.

“I think all countries realize you can’t go about this on your own. We’re much better working with partners and allies. This doesn’t matter if it’s over in the European theater or in Africa.”

‘Emerging Threat’

To curb the issue of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recruiting NATO alliance service members, a conference called “Securing Our Military Expertise from Adversaries” was held last month at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, headquarters of NATO Allied Air Command.

The conference was attended by military, intelligence, and other stakeholders from the United States and 22 of its NATO allies and Five Eyes partners, as well as representatives from the U.S. National Security Council, according to a Feb. 8 statement from USAFE–AFAFRICA.

USAFE–AFAFRICA described the Chinese regime’s recruiting effort as an “emerging threat to U.S. and NATO security.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime used “overt and covert recruitment” methods to target service members who are “pilots, maintainers, air operations center personnel, and a variety of other technical experts from across multiple occupations that could provide insight into U.S. and NATO air tactics, techniques, and procedures,” according to the statement.

The regime would seek out recruits via “a mix of privately owned companies backed by the PRC and those directly contracted by the Chinese government,” the statement says, referring to China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

“PRC recruitment of this nature primarily occurs through seemingly typical job listings, using online job sites or through headhunting emails sent straight to targeted individuals,” it states. “The U.S. also notes that common red flags include jobs located in or around China, contracts that seem ‘too good to be true,’ and vague details on end customers or position duties.”

During the conference, participants discussed “best practices, cross-targeting, and the establishment of shared goals” to combat China’s recruiting practice, according to the statement, which ends by asking current and former service members to contact the U.S. Air Force Office of Investigations if they have been recruited to train foreign militaries.

Warning

In September 2023, then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. issued a memo warning airmen that the PLA was attempting to “exploit your knowledge and skill to fill gaps in their military capability.”

“Foreign companies are targeting and recruiting U.S. and NATO-trained military talent across specialties and career fields to train the PLA abroad to fill gaps in their military capabilities,” Gen. Brown wrote.

“By essentially training the trainer, many of those who accept contracts with these foreign companies are eroding our national security, putting the very safety of their fellow service members and the country at risk, and may be violating the law.”

Gen. Brown is now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the current Air Force chief of staff is Gen. David Allvin.

In June 2023, the U.S. Department of Commerce sanctioned a group of companies—including Frontier Services Group Ltd. and Test Flying Academy of South Africa—for “providing training to Chinese military pilots using Western and NATO sources.”

Former U.S. Marine pilot and Australian citizen Daniel Duggan was arrested in Australia in October 2022 over allegations that he unlawfully trained Chinese military pilots. He is facing extradition to the United States.

Also, in 2022, the UK Ministry of Defence revealed that about 30 former British military pilots had been hired by a private South African company to train Chinese pilots for about $270,000 annually.

 

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