Defence Minister Richard Marles has revealed “enough evidence” has emerged into claims that ex-RAAF personnel are training Chinese pilots to warrant a review of current laws.
However, Marles crucially refused to tell reporters whether the involvement of any Australians had been confirmed.
It follows reports last month that China had been reaching out to former UK and Australian pilots. It was shortly followed by local police arresting a former US Marine Corps pilot and flight instructor at the request of US authorities for his work in China.
“The information provided to me so far presents enough evidence to warrant the need for a detailed examination into the adequacy of current Defence policies and procedures addressing this matter,” Minister Marles said in a statement.
He added former personnel had an “enduring obligation” to protect national secrets, and changes to the law would be made if “weaknesses” were found.
“I want to make this point. For those who do come into possession of our nation’s secrets, either through service in the Australian Defence Force or, indeed, service in any other part of the Commonwealth, there is an enduring obligation to maintain those secrets for as long as they are secrets, which persists well after their engagement with the Commonwealth, and to breach that obligation is a very serious crime.
“And that is clear and unambiguous.”
Currently, ex-service personnel can only work with overseas militaries with permission from Australia.
Last month, Australian Aviation reported that Defence would launch an investigation into UK newspaper claims that ex-air force pilots were training the Chinese armed forces in aircraft such as Typhoons, Jaguars, Harriers, and Tornados.
It followed The Times reporting that former RAF personnel were being paid $430,000 a year to help China “develop its tactics and technological expertise”.
The Australian then subsequently revealed that RAAF veterans were part of the western cohort of 30 who were approached through a South African flight school acting as an intermediary.
Defence Minister Richard Marles said then he would be “shocked and disturbed” if pilots were being “lured by a paycheck from a foreign state above serving their own country”.
Finally, weeks later, Australian police arrested a former US Marine Corps pilot.
Daniel Edmund Duggan, 54, was arrested on 21 October in Orange, NSW and appeared in court on the same day, according to court records, his lawyer, and two police sources. He later said he would “vigorously” fight his extradition.