Chinese attempts to recruit U.S., NATO service members as advisors prompts Ramstein conference

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Cameron Silver
  • USAFE-AFAFRICA Public Affairs
  • Ramstein AB hosted a NATO conference to curb efforts by China’s People’s Liberation Army to recruit NATO Alliance service members to serve as advisors to the PLA
  • U.S. and NATO officials are zeroing in on People’s Republic of China efforts to exploit current and former U.S and NATO-trained military members with air operations experience in an attempt to bolster PLA air force capabilities

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – U.S. and NATO officials continue to make strides to address People’s Republic of China attempts to manipulate Alliance-trained airmen with the Securing Our Military Expertise from Adversaries conference at NATO Allied Air Command, Ramstein AB, Germany, Jan. 30-31, 2024.

Could You be a Target?

Current and former U.S. and NATO members with air operations experience are in demand by the PLA and have been the targets of both overt and covert recruitment.

According to U.S. officials, these job offers come from a mix of privately-owned companies backed by the PRC and those directly contracted by the Chinese government. Targeted experience includes that of pilots, maintainers, air operations center personnel, and a variety of other technical experts from across multiple occupations that could provide insight into U.S. and NATO air tactics, techniques, and procedures.

PRC recruitment of this nature primarily occurs through seemingly typical job listings, using online job sites or through headhunting emails sent straight to targeted individuals. The U.S. also notes that common red flags include jobs located in or around China, contracts that seem “too good to be true,” and vague details on end customers or position duties.

The issue, highlighted in a September memo sent by then-U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., has seen a rise in recent years and poses a risk to sensitive national defense information for the U.S. and its partners.

Providing a defense service to a foreign military is regulated by the U.S. State Department under International Traffic in Arms Regulations, while intentionally providing a foreign government with classified information is illegal under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and U.S. Federal Law. Punishment for persons convicted of intentionally providing classified information to a foreign government could include dishonorable discharge, life imprisonment, substantial fines, and even the death penalty in more severe cases.

Tackling the Problem Together

The Securing Our Military Expertise from Adversaries conference is the first such event to include broad NATO participation aimed at tackling ongoing PRC targeting of U.S. and NATO-trained military personnel for employment. Topics included discussing best practices, cross-targeting and the establishment of shared goals to combat the emerging threat to U.S. and NATO security.

Among the attendees for this event were military, intelligence, and other key stakeholders from the U.S. and 22 of its NATO allies and Five Eye partners, as well as representation from the U.S. National Security Council. The wide attendance signals the heightened level of importance this issue has taken on the international stage.

The PRC has not denied recruitment accusations outright. The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., accused the U.S. of attempting to smear companies engaged in “normal exchanges and cooperation” between the two countries.

In June 2023, the U.S. government added dozens of companies to its trade restriction list that have purported connections to the Chinese government. This list included several military training firms, such as the Test Flying Academy of South Africa and Frontier Services Group, Ltd.

If you are a current or former service member and you or someone you know has been recruited to train foreign militaries, contact your local U.S. Air Force Office of Investigations detachment immediately or fill out a form here.