A former Marine Corps Harrier pilot who worked in China has been arrested

A former US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II attack pilot who worked in China has been arrested in Australia. Daniel Edmund Duggan, 54, is now at risk of being extradited to the United States. This is an interesting development amid an ongoing crackdown on former military pilots from Western countries working in China or for Chinese clients elsewhere. Namely, revelations last week that “at least 30” former British military pilots have been hired by China to provide training and intelligence to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Duggan was arrested last Friday in Orange, New South Wales, by Australian Federal Police. He appeared in court the same day, according to court records, two police sources and his attorney, Reuters reports. A bail request was reportedly denied, leaving Duggan in jail near Bathurst.

An AV-8B Harrier II assigned to the “Bulldogs” of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223 at Boca Chica Field near Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. Duggan flew such jets while serving in the Marine Corps. US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian Morales/ Released

“An individual was arrested on October 21, 2022 following a request by the United States of America for his provisional arrest,” a spokesperson for the federal Attorney General’s Department said. Reuters. “As the matter is before the courts, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

According to one of the aforementioned law enforcement sources, the Australian Federal Police were responding to a US request which will likely be followed by formal extradition proceedings. Ahead of such a decision, Duggan is due to appear in court in Sydney again in November, where a new bail application will be considered.

At this point, nothing further is known about the nature of the US arrest warrant or the charges against Duggan.

However, an unnamed “aviation source” said Reuters that the FBI is interested in Duggan specifically because of his work in China.

Duggan moved to China in 2014. According to his LinkedIn profile, he began working in Qingdao in 2017 as Managing Director of AVIBIZ Limited, described as “a comprehensive aviation consulting firm focused on the dynamic Chinese aviation industry. and fast growing. “This company was registered in Hong Kong but officially ceased operations in 2020.

Prior to working in China, Duggan had been active in Australia, where he ran Top Gun Tasmania, based at Hobart International Airport. Under the banner of ‘Australia’s premier adventure flying company’, it employed ex-military pilots from the US, Germany and the UK and offered pleasure flying to paying customers. Its aircraft included Jet Provost T5A and L-39 Albatros jet trainers and Nanchang CJ-6A prop trainers and it also flew in Australian air shows.

Duggan’s previous military career saw him spend approximately a decade with the US Marine Corps, from 1989 to 2002, during which he flew the AV-8B and served as a senior tactical instructor, rising to the rank of major. . He spent time as a Harrier exchange pilot with the Spanish Navy and eventually racked up several hundred carrier landings on seven different carriers.

Cockpit footage of a Spanish Navy EAV-8B, a Duggan type flew as an exchange pilot:

Duggan’s arrest came the same week the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) confirmed that dozens of ex-British frontline military pilots had been hired ‘to help Beijing develop its tactics and technological expertise’ . The pilots involved were mostly former fast jet crews and all started working for China from late 2019.

As well as working in China, some of the British pilots were contracted for the PLA through an intermediary, the Test Flying Academy of South Africa, or TFASA, a private training facility in the Western Cape in South Africa. .

So far, there is no indication that these British pilots have done anything illegal or breached the Official Secrets Act – UK legislation that protects state secrets and official information.

However, an unnamed Western official told a group of British reporters: “By supporting this training, these personnel are almost certainly improving China’s military knowledge and capabilities. They added: “If we did not act, this activity would almost certainly cause harm to the UK and to the benefit of the defense of our allies.

Britain’s MOD has issued a rare ‘threat alert’ to deter UK personnel and ex-servicemen who could be targeted by job offers from China and a new national security bill and potentially others measures are intended to solve the problem.

It should be noted, of course, that there is no confirmation, so far, that Duggan was providing information on tactics and technological expertise to the PLA, or otherwise training Chinese military personnel, at the time. beyond the aforementioned unnamed “aviation source” suggestion.

However, it is clear that the various loopholes through which relations of this type between former Western military personnel and the PLA are under intense scrutiny at the moment.

Britain’s MOD said last week that several other Western nations are currently being targeted by China as it seeks to acquire military expertise through contractor personnel.

Australia is also reportedly investigating allegations that some of its former fighter pilots have been approached for work in China.

Canada is also investigating allegations that China recruited former Canadian fighter pilots to train the PLA. “We are aware of these reports and are investigating this further with federal partners,” a spokesperson for Canada’s Department of National Defense said.

In France, too, there are reports of former military crews being courted by China. In one case, it would relate specifically to a former French Navy pilot who was approached by Beijing for information on aircraft carrier operations – an area of ​​particular interest to the PLA Navy. “I finally refused the offer because I didn’t want to get in trouble. And also for ethical reasons, because China is not on our side,” the pilot reportedly said.

Interestingly, there have also been unconfirmed claims that the apparently non-Chinese pilot seen in video footage of the aftermath of a PLA training plane crash in Henan province earlier this year may have been French. .

It’s unclear how all of these reports relate, as to the more specific question of whether or not any laws in the countries involved have actually been broken.

But regardless of the legal aspect (not to mention the moral aspect, by aiding a potential enemy), it is becoming increasingly clear that China is aggressively trying to secure former military crews from the West (and may -be from elsewhere too) to acquire tactical and technological expertise.

As we have noted in the past, this is very much in line with China’s broader efforts to modernize its air force and tactics, coupled with the introduction of much more advanced aircraft and weapons. , with even more sophisticated platforms to be introduced in the near future. coming.

With the PLA’s air arms, in particular, introducing more Western-style training and combat tactics, as well as organizational structures and doctrines, it’s no surprise that Beijing is turning to former Western military personnel to assist in this process. .

People’s Liberation Army pilots pose in front of their Su-30MKK Flanker fighter jets. PLAAF

However, the idea that China might also be trying to gain an advantage over potential Western enemies by gaining information on NATO and Western air forces and tactics that could be useful in future confrontations or eventualities is perhaps more worrying. The extent of this, however, also depends on the extent to which Western personnel involved in these arrangements voluntarily provided sensitive information. So far there is no evidence that this has happened.

Indeed, there are even reports in the UK that ex-British military pilots in China have been actively working to extract useful classified information from their hosts and send it back to their home countries, to give them an advantage.

This claim is attributed to unnamed ‘Whitehall sources’ and if true it is hard to see why the UK Government would be happy to release this information given the impact it could have on UK staff currently in China or in the future. . On the other hand, with the scheme now “closed”, this announcement may be more intended to warn China against further efforts to recruit ex-military crew from the UK.

Of course, arrangements such as those China has apparently made with individuals (and companies) in the West are inherently vulnerable to espionage. The mere fact that ex-Western military personnel are even in China makes them vulnerable to coercion from Chinese intelligence; the nature of the jobs that at least some of them are involved in only compounds that question.

Ultimately, as long as Beijing deems it gains more in terms of modernizing the PLA and its tactics than it loses in terms of sensitive military intelligence going the other way, one can expect these efforts to continue. Their success in recruiting ex-military pilots from other countries in the future will likely depend heavily on how the wider legal ramifications play out for the pilots involved in these arrangements.

Contact the author: [email protected]

About Dianne Stinson

Check Also

UK defense cyber skills to be boosted through industrial partnership

Defense personnel must be qualified to deal with cyber threats Industry Collaboration to Increase UK …