The visiting head of Britain’s Royal Air Force has detailed how he’s worked with Australia to prevent former fighter pilots from taking lucrative training jobs with the Chinese military.
- Air Marshal Mike Wigston says he’s confident the threat of Beijing luring western military personnel had been “nipped in the bud”
- He says he doesn’t believe any other potentially hostile nations were trying to recruit western military personnel
- He confirmed ADF pilots are still remotely operating lethal Reaper drones in the UK, despite Australia cancelling plans to buy them
In an interview during the Avalon International Air Show, Air Marshal Mike Wigston declared he was confident the threat of Beijing luring western military personnel had now been “nipped in the bud”.
“We made the decision to go public on this in a very loud, clear way, that it’s unacceptable and it’s something that we were prepared to call China out [on] publicly,” Air Marshal Wigston told the ABC.
“Since then, we’ve had a number of people come to us, to the authorities saying, ‘I’ve been approached, this has happened to me’ — the level of awareness, and I think that’s reflected internationally now, that’s reassured me that we’ve got the message across”.
“I’m confident that this approach, has nipped this in the bud, this problem in the bud,” the visiting Air Chief predicted.
“Because of our close intelligence relationship with Australia and other allies, we all shared that information, we were all alert to it, and we have been in lock step with the Australian authorities throughout this process.”
Following the UK’s warnings in October, Defence Minister Richard Marles ordered his department to investigate if Australian personnel had also been approached and what regulations may be needed to prevent retired personnel from sharing military secrets with potential adversaries.
Last month, the head of ASIO confirmed Australian veterans had been targeted by other nations and hit out at those personnel who had put “cash before country” by working for authoritarian regimes, describing them as “top tools” more than “top guns”.
The Royal Air Force Chief says he doesn’t believe any other potentially hostile nations apart from China were trying to recruit western military personnel, but the UK is examining how it could better implement sanctions under the Official Secrets Act.
“We are certainly engaging with the people that have gone to work in China, and the people who might be thinking about it because they’ve been approached, just to make it very clear where we stand on that”.
ADF pilots still operating remote killer drones from UK
The visiting Air Chief has also confirmed that a small number of ADF pilots are still remotely operating lethal Reaper drones from the UK, despite Australia last year cancelling plans to buy the deadly unmanned technology.
In April, the ABC revealed 32 Australian personnel were embedded in “unmanned aerial system units” in the UK, while one other was operating the remote lethal technology in the United States.
Soon after the former Morrison government cancelled the $1.3 billion SkyGuardian project, which would have seen the Australian military acquire armed drones for the first time.
Despite the scrapping of the project, Air Marshal Wigston has revealed some Australian pilots are continuing to operate the killer drones for the UK.
“We have a very close collaboration with the Australian Air Force in this regard,” Air Marshal Wigston said.
“In the same way as the Australian Air Force has helped us rapidly bring the P-8 (Poseidon) into service, rapidly bring the E-7 (Wedgetail) into service, then we can reciprocate by sharing as much as we can, and we are doing [for] our drone operations”.