Online video showing a Chinese jet crash over the weekend reveals that the Chinese air force is receiving flight training from Russian instructors, according to U.S. and Chinese social media reports.
The Russian military assistance was shown in the aftermath of a crash of a two-seat JL-10 supersonic jet trainer on Saturday. Local residents recorded the crash scene and pilots and posted the footage online.
Two pilots were shown in a field shortly after ejecting from the JL-10 with minimal injuries. One pilot, wearing a Chinese air force uniform, spoke on a cellphone with his commander in Chinese. The second pilot was a red-haired Caucasian who spoke English with an accent.
“Don’t do that,” the foreign pilot said to one villager using a video camera.
Chinese social media described the man as a Russian flight instructor.
The JL-10 trainer is a built-in-China jet based on the Russian Yak-130 trainer and began flying in China in 2019.
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The use of Russian flight instructors is not unusual for training pilots in aircraft designed by Moscow. The employment of non-Chinese pilot instructors, however, is considered a Chinese military secret. The People’s Liberation Army insists its military forces are self-sufficient and do not rely on foreign training, analysts say.
A Chinese dissident source said Russian flight instructors have been training Chinese pilots on the JL-10 for at least a year. Russian military instructors also trained Chinese pilots in conducting aircraft carrier landings.
On the phone call in the video, the Chinese pilot was overheard telling a military commissar that he suspected he had broken his leg in the crash. The footage was first posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo and reposted on Twitter.
Several videos of the crash scene were posted. One showed the JL-10 flying overhead, and another showed a large plume of black smoke and debris from the crash site.
The video of the two downed pilots showed a villager asking, “Are you a member of the People’s Liberation Army?” The villager then pointed to the foreigner and asked, “Who is that?”
“This is our instructor,” the Chinese pilot responded. “Don’t take photos.” The video ended at that point.
The location was reported on Twitter as Zhenligu township in Henan province, about 434 miles south of Beijing. Another jet crash was reported in Anhui province.
“Are these pilots doing surrender exercises?” one Chinese Twitter user asked.
The Chinese Defense Ministry announced in January that the first set of pilots had been trained at the Shijiazhuang Flight Academy in western Hubei province.
Derek Solen, a civilian analyst with the U.S. Air Force’s China Aerospace Studies Institute, said in a recent report that the JL-10 training would be used to prepare combat pilots for the fifth-generation J-20 fighters. The J-20 is China’s most advanced warplane. The Pentagon has said it was developed and built with stolen technology from the U.S. F-35 and F-22 jets.
The Air Force think tank report said Chinese flight instructors have “performed poorly” and lost their positions.
“While the [PLA air force’s] policy ensures that new flight instructors be relatively experienced pilots and that the flight academies be more closely connected to operational units and their real-world missions, the flight academies are making efforts to give their current flight instructors opportunities to gain the experience and skills that their new colleagues should have,” he said.
The report did not mention foreign flight instructors being used in the PLA air force.