The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is conducting an investigation concerning allegations that former pilots from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) are providing training to military personnel in China. The statement to CTVNews.ca revealed the awareness of the RCMP regarding the former RCAF pilots’ involvement with training exercises for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force. Further commentary on the matter was declined due to the ongoing investigation.
Prior reports by The Globe and Mail alleged that the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA) has been the conduit for this transfer of knowledge, aiding three former RCAF pilots in training Chinese military personnel. It is believed these former military pilots from Canada, the U.K., and other NATO nations were drawn to TFASA by the promise of substantial six-figure salaries. TFASA’s links extended to the training of both military and civilian pilots in China and South Africa.
TFASA has responded to the statements released by Canadian authorities, assuring that its training programs don’t include sensitive or classified information such as NATO tactics or frontline equipment. The South African flight school further disputed suggestions that they have facilitated the footprint of foreign powers gaining advantage in advanced tactics, techniques, or technology.
Attention on TFASA and other international flight schools turned to the international stage in June, when U.S. export sanctions were imposed for “providing training to Chinese military pilots using Western and NATO sources”, an action contravening U.S. national security and foreign policy interests as per the U.S. Department of Commerce. Despite these sanctions, TFASA stands behind the legality of its operations.
Applying to the situation, the Security of Information Act carries repercussions for the “unauthorized communication of special operational information” including imprisonment for up to 14 years. It is, however, yet to be determined whether the Canadian pilots have violated this regulation. As such, the matter has been forwarded to the RCMP by Canada’s Department of National Defence.
Public Safety Canada has echoed sentiments stating that activities threatening national security and sovereignty are direct by-products of geopolitical power struggles across varied platforms – from economic and technological to political and military. Providing case specific details was avoided citing the need to protect sensitive sources and activities.
The story linking former military pilots with Chinese military training gained traction in November 2022, when reports surfaced about as many as 30 former British military pilots engaged in similar actions. This attracted criticism from James Bezan, Conservative defence critic, citing a breach in patriotism and potential risk to national security for Canada and its allies.
Adding to the layers of this story, it was reported that an ex-U.S. Marine, earlier employed with the South African flight school, had been arrested in Australia in October 2022, and the property of a British ex-military TFASA executive was searched in Australia in December 2022. These incidents brought Australian pilots into the linked associations as well.
Finally, the RCMP issued a statement acknowledging the presence of foreign actor interference activity from foreign state actors within Canada, stoutly reaffirming RCMP’s mandate to intervene when criminal or illegal activities backed by a foreign state are detected within Canadian borders.