Online video showing a Chinese jet crash over the weekend reveals that the Chinese air force appears to be receiving flight training from Russian instructors, according to US 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. The crash scene and the pilots who bailed out before the crash were filmed by local residents in central China and later posted online .
Two pilots were shown in a field shortly after they had both ejected from the JL-10 with minimal injuries. One pilot wearing a Chinese air force uniform spoke on a cell phone to his commander in Chinese and 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 who was filming the two men.
Chinese social media described the man as a Russian flight instructor.
The JL-10 trainer is a built-in-China jet that is based on the Russian Yak-130 trainer that began flying in China in 2019.
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The use of Russian flight instructors is not unusual for training pilots in an aircraft designed by Moscow. However, in China employment of non-Chinese pilot instructors is considered a military secret because 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 from the crash. The crash was first posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo and later reposted on Twitter.
Several videos of the crash scene were posted, including one showing the JL-10 flying overhead and a second showing a large plume of black smoke and debris from the crash site.
The video of the two downed pilots included questioning from one villager who asked “Are you a member of the People’s Liberation Army?” and then pointing to the foreigner asking “Who is that?”
“This is our instructor,” the Chinese pilot responds, telling the villager, “Don’t take photos” — at which point the video ends.
The location was reported on Twitter as Zhenligu township in Henan Province, located about 434 miles south of Beijing. Another jet crash was reported as having taken place in Anhui Province.
“Are these pilots doing surrender exercises?” one Chinese Twitter user stated.
The Chinese Defense Ministry announced in January that the first batch of pilots had been trained at the Shijiazhuang Flight Academy in western Hubei Province.
Derek Solen, a civilian analyst with the Air Force China Aerospace Studies Institute, said in a recent report that the JL-10 training will be used to prepare combat pilots for the fifth-generation J-20 fighters. The J-20 is China’s most advanced warplane, one that the Pentagon has said was developed and built with stolen technology from the US F-35 and F-22 jets.
The Air Force think tank report said Chinese flight instructors have “performed poorly” and as a result 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.