A South African company is central to a commercial arrangement that amounts to a threat to its national security, the government of the United Kingdom says.

The Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), which is headquartered in Oudtshoorn acts as a head-hunting agency for the Chinese government, an unnamed Western intelligence official told Sky News.

TFASA offers clients “qualified fighter and tactics instructors” for hire. In January it described itself as “the go-to provider of specialist flight testing and aviation training solutions for progressive nations across the world”, when it announced a cooperation agreement with the South African Civil Aviation Authority.

But the UK says it is part of a system that poses a sufficient risk to warrant an official “threat alert”, the UK’s ministry of defence says.

The recruitment breaks no current laws, the UK government says – but it would like to “deter” such activity.

The UK’s armed forces minister James Heappey called for a change in law to prevent Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots from passing on intelligence to China in future, and a spokesperson for embattled UK Prime Minister Liz Truss promised “decisive steps” to stop such headhunting.

China is reportedly interested in recruiting pilots of the UK’s F-35 fighters, which it shares with Nato allies, but has not yet secured the services of any with such experience. Instead, the pilots recruited have flown Harriers, Jaguars, Tornados and Typhoons.

As many as 30 pilots from the UK are believed to have helped train members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Relations between China and Nato have soured considerably as China tacitly supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Unnamed western intelligence sources told UK media that pilots were offered packages that amount to nearly £240,000, the equivalent of more than R4.8 million per year.

Those same sources appeared intent on pointing out that TFASA is acting as a private company, and not alongside the South African government.

TFASA says it was created in 2003 and “benefits from being commercially independent and politically neutral”.

The company on Tuesday acknowledged questions from Business Insider South Africa, but did not respond by the time of publication.