A South African flight-training school that reportedly trains Chinese military pilots says it has a few ex-members of the Royal Canadian Air Force on its payroll.
The Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), in a statement to The Globe and Mail, would not identify its Chinese clients but said it has customers in the Asia-Pacific region.
It also said any training on military aircraft that it provides does not divulge classified information.
TFASA, a training school for test pilots and flight-test engineers, said it employs several Canadians who have worked in the Canadian military.
“Most of the Canadian guys would be former RCAF but some of them may be people who trained privately or are civilian-trained pilots,” the company, with operations in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, said in a statement.
TFASA said the military aircraft it uses to train customers are no later than third-generation fighters and the aircraft are not from North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries. Third-generation fighters are those from the 1960s and 1970s. “Nothing the RCAF have currently got in service,” the company said.
The company said it’s “not training classified tactics or air-to-air combat but really the kind of basic training you’d get from any flight school: aerostability, manoeuvring and that sort of thing.”
In a separate statement posted on the company’s website, The Test Flying Academy said the same training could be found in Canada and other Western countries.
“The training it provides is also available from other civilian contractors including organizations based in the United States, Canada and European jurisdictions.”
Last month, Canada’s Department of National Defence said it would investigate whether former Canadian fighter pilots are helping the Chinese military after reports in Britain and Australia that Beijing was recruiting Westerners to train its own air force.
On Thursday, however, a Canadian Armed Forces general told MPs that the military can’t do anything about this.
Brigadier-General Denis Boucher, director of General Defence Security, told the Commons defence committee what people do after they leave the Canadian Forces is not policed by the military.
“We are aware of the allegations and this matter is very concerning to us,” he said.
“But these are postemployment activities,” Brig.-Gen. Boucher said. “They don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Brig.-Gen. Boucher said the military has referred the matter to the Department of Justice. He said ex-RCAF members are still bound by the provisions of the Security of Information Act. But policing that falls to Justice.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said he thinks the military is “passing the buck” on this matter.
“Those non-disclosure agreements that are being signed by RCAF pilots as they are leaving the forces is between National Defence and the individual, not CSIS, not the RCMP, not the government of Canada,” he said. “For them to abdicate their responsibility here is in my opinion laughable.”
He said that even if a company is using third-generation fighters for training, he would still be concerned that ex-military pilots would be sharing war-fighting techniques employed by NATO member countries.
In the statement on its website, TFASA also said its trainers are not imparting secrets to its clients. None, it said, “are in possession of legally or operationally sensitive information relating to the national-security interests of any country, whether those from where its employees are drawn or in which it provides training.”
In late October, British media outlets and the New York Times, citing government sources, reported that Beijing was recruiting Westerners to train its own air force. Britain’s Times newspaper, among other media, reported that the Test Flying Academy of South Africa was approaching pilots to find veterans who could train People’s Liberation Army (PLA) pilots.
The BBC and others reported that up to 30 former military pilots had gone to train members of China’s PLA. The Australian newspaper reported that Australians were among this group of pilots and the Daily Mail said Canadians were also being recruited.