China’s Air Force Is Training in South Africa

CommentaryChina is training its air force pilots in South Africa by using former French pilots, according to a new report. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) uses a subsidiary and partner of its largest aerospace-defense contractor, Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), to do the job. AVIC purchased and partners with South African pilot training companies and French pilots who have access to fighter jets from the South African air force, and who secretly train in China on Chinese jets, the report says. On May 23, Intelligence Online published details of the South Africa and Chinese operations and the “renegade Western pilots” who assist the PLA against the wishes of authorities in the United States and France. In April, a video surfaced on Twitter that appeared to show a European trainer and Chinese air force pilot who had ejected from their JL-10 training aircraft in Anhui Province. The JL-10 is a supersonic light combat jet used for training purposes by the PLA air force (PLAAF). The builder of the JL-10, the Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation, is a subsidiary of AVIC. A Hongdu JL-10 advanced jet trainer flies in the sky in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province of China, on Sept. 21, 2021. (Yue Shuhua/VCG via Getty Images) Intelligence Online, which is based in France, noted that the trainer in the video spoke English “with a slight French accent.” The Chinese man identified himself as a PLA officer. “According to our sources, at least three former French fighter pilots, including at least one who had flown Dassault-built Rafale, have already taken part in flight training sessions for the Chinese army,” according to the article. The training enables the PLAAF both directly and through observation of Western techniques, tactics, reflexes, combat practices, and rules of engagement. Such training would be critical in any future conflict, including for the prediction of Western pilot responses. AVIC partners through the AVIC International Flight Training Academy (AIFA) with the Test Flight Academy of South Africa (TFASA), according to a TFASA presentation available online. TFASA provides “military operational flight training” on both planes and helicopters, as well as “surveillance” operations. AVIC has three “bases” in the southeastern part of South Africa, including AIFA George Base, AIFA Oudtshoorn Base, and AIFA Beaufort West Base. “AIFA was established in 2011 by the acquisition of Cape Flying Services, which had been functioning as a flight training school at George Airport since 1980,” according to the AIFA website. The AIFA South Africa Facebook page shows a multicultural group of trainers and trainees, including from European, East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. AVIC’s Oudtshoorn Base was apparently established in 2011 like the George base, and the Beaufort West base followed in 2015. AIFA’s most recent post, from April 27, states that the school takes “pride in welcoming a new group of Private Enrolled Students from the Maldives and Syria at our George Base.” Syria is closely aligned with Russia and has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including an air force bombing of a humanitarian convoy in 2017 that killed 14 aid workers. An AIFA post from June 29, 2021, shows three individuals in a plane, one European and two Asians. While the European’s face is clear, the two Asians in the photo are blurred, hiding their identities. This follows a pattern of identifying, often by name, many of the Europeans in the AIFA posts, but almost none of the East Asians. Another post, from June 15, 2021, shows two AVIC employees on a “career day” at an elite high school near the AVIC bases, speaking to three children. Is China’s main air force supplier, controlled by one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, really what South Africa’s best schools should offer to their children as aspirational? According to Intelligence Online, AVIC’s partner in South Africa, TFASA, “recruits former Western air force pilots by offering them attractive salaries [of up to $30,000 per month] and then sends them to China.” TFASA has provided China’s commercial pilots with training for over 10 years, according to the report, including through civil aviation training in Liaoning Province and through a linkage to Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It trains students on the Z-10 attack helicopter and the Z-8 troop transporter. A group of China-made Z-10 helicopters perform in the air during the annual Tianjin International Helicopter Expo in Tianjin, China, on Sept. 9, 2015. (Feature China/Future Publishing via Getty Images) TFASA was previously the South African government-affiliated National Test Pilot School, but closed in 2003 due to U.S. pressure from its “already existing links with China,” according to Intelligence Online. “For its exercises in South Africa, [TFASA] hires Dassault Mirage F1s and Saab Cheetahs no longer used by the South African air force,”

China’s Air Force Is Training in South Africa

Commentary

China is training its air force pilots in South Africa by using former French pilots, according to a new report. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) uses a subsidiary and partner of its largest aerospace-defense contractor, Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), to do the job.

AVIC purchased and partners with South African pilot training companies and French pilots who have access to fighter jets from the South African air force, and who secretly train in China on Chinese jets, the report says.

On May 23, Intelligence Online published details of the South Africa and Chinese operations and the “renegade Western pilots” who assist the PLA against the wishes of authorities in the United States and France.

In April, a video surfaced on Twitter that appeared to show a European trainer and Chinese air force pilot who had ejected from their JL-10 training aircraft in Anhui Province. The JL-10 is a supersonic light combat jet used for training purposes by the PLA air force (PLAAF). The builder of the JL-10, the Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation, is a subsidiary of AVIC.

Epoch Times Photo
A Hongdu JL-10 advanced jet trainer flies in the sky in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province of China, on Sept. 21, 2021. (Yue Shuhua/VCG via Getty Images)

Intelligence Online, which is based in France, noted that the trainer in the video spoke English “with a slight French accent.” The Chinese man identified himself as a PLA officer.

“According to our sources, at least three former French fighter pilots, including at least one who had flown Dassault-built Rafale, have already taken part in flight training sessions for the Chinese army,” according to the article.

The training enables the PLAAF both directly and through observation of Western techniques, tactics, reflexes, combat practices, and rules of engagement. Such training would be critical in any future conflict, including for the prediction of Western pilot responses.

AVIC partners through the AVIC International Flight Training Academy (AIFA) with the Test Flight Academy of South Africa (TFASA), according to a TFASA presentation available online. TFASA provides “military operational flight training” on both planes and helicopters, as well as “surveillance” operations.

AVIC has three “bases” in the southeastern part of South Africa, including AIFA George Base, AIFA Oudtshoorn Base, and AIFA Beaufort West Base.

“AIFA was established in 2011 by the acquisition of Cape Flying Services, which had been functioning as a flight training school at George Airport since 1980,” according to the AIFA website.

The AIFA South Africa Facebook page shows a multicultural group of trainers and trainees, including from European, East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern countries.

AVIC’s Oudtshoorn Base was apparently established in 2011 like the George base, and the Beaufort West base followed in 2015.

AIFA’s most recent post, from April 27, states that the school takes “pride in welcoming a new group of Private Enrolled Students from the Maldives and Syria at our George Base.”

Syria is closely aligned with Russia and has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including an air force bombing of a humanitarian convoy in 2017 that killed 14 aid workers.

An AIFA post from June 29, 2021, shows three individuals in a plane, one European and two Asians. While the European’s face is clear, the two Asians in the photo are blurred, hiding their identities. This follows a pattern of identifying, often by name, many of the Europeans in the AIFA posts, but almost none of the East Asians.

Another post, from June 15, 2021, shows two AVIC employees on a “career day” at an elite high school near the AVIC bases, speaking to three children.

Is China’s main air force supplier, controlled by one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, really what South Africa’s best schools should offer to their children as aspirational?

According to Intelligence Online, AVIC’s partner in South Africa, TFASA, “recruits former Western air force pilots by offering them attractive salaries [of up to $30,000 per month] and then sends them to China.”

TFASA has provided China’s commercial pilots with training for over 10 years, according to the report, including through civil aviation training in Liaoning Province and through a linkage to Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It trains students on the Z-10 attack helicopter and the Z-8 troop transporter.

Epoch Times Photo
A group of China-made Z-10 helicopters perform in the air during the annual Tianjin International Helicopter Expo in Tianjin, China, on Sept. 9, 2015. (Feature China/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

TFASA was previously the South African government-affiliated National Test Pilot School, but closed in 2003 due to U.S. pressure from its “already existing links with China,” according to Intelligence Online.

“For its exercises in South Africa, [TFASA] hires Dassault Mirage F1s and Saab Cheetahs no longer used by the South African air force,” according to the report. “The company boasts that it can also provide pilots who have flown in Eurofighters, produced by BAE Systems, Airbus Group and Leonardo, Saab-built Gripens and BAE Tornados.”

Dassault, Saab, BAE, and Airbus are French, Swedish, British, and pan-European, respectively.

Given the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide, totalitarianism, plans to invade democratic Taiwan, and aspirations of global hegemony, private support to the PLA is unacceptable.

Pilots who work with TFASA and AVIC should lose their security clearances and pilots licenses. South Africa should be economically sanctioned for cooperating so closely with the aviation programs of a totalitarian country.

AVIC also operates subsidiaries in Germany and Austria. These should be closed down immediately.

AVIC’s subsidiary in the United States filed for bankruptcy in 2020. Good riddance, and let’s hope the company’s other subsidiaries soon follow.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Follow

Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).