Austria’s Diamond Aircraft Industries likely to have breached EU arms embargo by selling surveillance planes to Myanmar military

June 12, 2023

Austria-based Diamond Aircraft Industries provided the Myanmar military with components to assemble surveillance aircraft and then trained key military personnel to produce and use the machines, in what appears to be a flagrant contravention of EU restrictive measures.

Open source research, leaked classified documents obtained by Justice For Myanmar, and a source with knowledge of the program implicate companies in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as Switzerland and the UK, which also have arms embargoes in place on Myanmar.

Equipment made by Garmin, the renowned Swiss domiciled technology company, is used by the DART-450 training and surveillance planes now in the possession of the Myanmar military.

Justice For Myanmar has discovered that Diamond Aircraft Industries trained Myanmar military personnel, including engineers and pilots from the air force and Tatmadaw Heavy Industry No. 10. to use the planes.

The Myanmar military began assembling the aircraft at the Shante air force base in Meiktila in central Myanmar in 2019.

The deal for local assembly of the aircrafts was likely to have been cemented when Myanmar military chief and war criminal Min Aung Hlaing visited Austria in 2017, which involved a meeting with Diamond Aircraft Industries CEO Christian Dries, a tour of Diamond's production lines and a test flight. During the "working friendship" visit, Min Aung Hlaing received a guard-of-honour welcome by the Chief of Defense Staff of the Austrian Armed Forces.

Headquartered in Austria, Diamond Aircraft Industries was acquired by the Chinese company Wanfeng Aviation Industry in December 2017 via its UK subsidiary, Wanfeng (UK) Aviation Co. Ltd. Wanfeng Aviation Industry is owned by the Shenzhen-listed company, Zhejiang Wanfeng Auto Wheel Company Limited, which is linked to Wanfeng Auto Holding Group.

Diamond Aircraft Industries is a registered member of Advantage Austria, the trade promotion arm of Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.

Diamond Aircraft DART-450 assembly in Myanmar will enhance Myanmar military’s aerial warfare capabilities

The DART-450 (Diamond Aircraft Reconnaissance Trainer) is a carbon fibre, tandem twin-seat civil and military turboprop trainer. The aircraft is primarily intended for pilot training and aerial reconnaissance missions. Aerial reconnaissance is essential for the gathering of imagery intelligence and data to support military planning and decision-making.

The deal to purchase the planes was sealed as the Myanmar military was committing a campaign of genocide against the Rohingya, and ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in other ethnic areas.

The Myanmar Air Force is regularly used for indiscriminate attacks against the people of Myanmar. Since the military’s illegal coup attempt, the junta increasingly used the air force for reconnaissance and to launch indiscriminate air strikes as a key part of its campaign of terror.

The DART-450 project has so far provided capabilities in aircraft production to the Myanmar military. If the project continues, it would support the Myanmar military's pilot training, aerial intelligence gathering and could be used in aerial attacks.

As part of the project, a DART-450 production facility was built at the Shante air base in Meiktila, Mandalay region in late 2018. The building of this facility shortly after the deal with Diamond Aircraft Industries appeared to have been reached in 2017 is confirmed by high-resolution Google Earth satellite imagery. The Shante air base in Meiktila serves as the headquarters for the Myanmar Air Force's flight training base and houses several squadrons.

Myanmar arms broker Miya Win International key player in the deal

A key player in the deal between Diamond Aircraft Industries and the Myanmar military is Myanmar-based arms broker, Miya Win International Company Limited.

A leaked internal memo from the Commander-in-Chief (Air) dated 8 November 2017, addressed to the Myanmar Army’s Office of the Directorate of Procurement, confirms that delegations from Miya Win International and senior officers from the commander-in-chief of the air force were set to hold a meeting regarding Dimond Aircraft Industries, and requested that representatives of the Directorate of Procurement attend the meeting. Download PDF (72 kb)

Diamond Aircraft Industries' most recent financial statements, for the year ending December 31, 2021, include a provision for Miya Win of €168,973, according to reporting by Profil.

As has previously been exposed by Justice For Myanmar, Miya Win International procured unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the Austrian company Schiebel Corporation and received parts following the Myanmar military’s attempted coup in February 2021.

Miya Win International has been sanctioned by the United Kingdom and is subject to export restrictions by the US Department of Commerce. According to the UK’s sanction designation, Miya Win International is responsible for brokering deals for the supply and upkeep of aircraft for the Myanmar Air Force.

Additionally, Miya Win International contributed funds to the Myanmar military in 2017 at two fundraising events held by Min Aung Hlaing to support genocide against the Rohingya. As a result, Miya Win was named by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

After the military’s coup attempt, Miya Win renewed its registration at the Directorate of Procurement for the supply of arms and equipment to the military, according to a classified document leaked to Justice For Myanmar.

Deal involves transfer of technology, supplying composite materials, parts, machinery and training

According to information obtained by Justice For Myanmar, the plan was for most of the DART-450 aircraft to be assembled in Myanmar with technical assistance from engineers from Diamond Aircraft Industries.

The transfer of technology was a core feature of the deal, with the intention to make the Myanmar military self-sufficient for the local production of the composite aircraft. The deal enabled the Myanmar military to obtain, in part through the local production of composite materials, key parts for DART-450 aircrafts.

But Justice For Myanmar notes that once the technology has been transferred, the Myanmar military can, and likely will, continue production, even if the terms set out in the original licence are no longer valid.

The DART-450 project in Myanmar was apparently planned to be implemented over six distinct phases. Justice For Myanmar has obtained reliable information about the first two phases.

Details of phase one of the Myanmar military's DART-450 project from an internal Myanmar military document. JFM source.
Details of phase two of the Myanmar military's DART-450 project from an internal Myanmar military document. JFM source.

As part of phase one, parts for six DART-450 aircraft were to be manufactured in Austria and shipped, bulk-packed and by airfreight, to Myanmar for final assembly.

Details of DART-450 shipped as a semi-knocked down kit to Myanmar by air freight for assembly, from an internal Myanmar military document. JFM source.

According to credible information shared with Justice For Myanmar, parts for a first DART-450 aircraft (with tail fin number 2903) arrived in Myanmar on 1 August 2019; and a second shipment (DART-450 aircraft with tail fin number 2901) arrived in Myanmar approximately one month later, on 29 August 2019.

By November 2019, the assembly work of aircraft 2901 had been completed with the technical assistance, on-site in Myanmar, from Diamond Aircraft Industries’ staff from Austria and Germany.

Construction for the sub-assembly of DART-450 aircraft 2903, based on parts manufactured in Austria, was scheduled to begin in December 2019.  According to information from a credible source, the assembly parts for DART-450 aircrafts A-0004 to A-0006 would be manufactured in November 2019 at Diamond Aircraft Industries’ facility in Austria.

By 2020, the semi-knock down kits for aircrafts A-0004, A-0005 and A-0006 had been received in Myanmar.

A second phase of the DART-450 project in Myanmar entails jointly building, with Diamond Aircraft Industries, five aircrafts in Myanmar. Moulds and composite materials, equipment for final assembly, and machines, were provided by Diamond Aircraft Industries. According to a first-hand account, the installation of the equipment and machines in Myanmar had been almost fully completed.

Justice For Myanmar has obtained the Myanmar military’s manufacturing flowchart outlining the steps for local assembly of DART-450 aircraft at the Shante air base. The flowchart aligns with the process of assembling aircraft at Diamond Aircraft Industries' facility in Wiener Neustadt, lower Austria, as described in an article published in the journal Composites World.

Myanmar military’s manufacturing flowchart to assemble DART-450 aircrafts at the Shante air base in Meiktila. JFM source.

Justice For Myanmar has also obtained photographic evidence from inside the DART-450 facility at Shante air base. These photos confirm some of the key steps, as outlined in the leaked flowchart.

Inside the DART-450 production facility in Shante air base in Meiktila. The photo above depicts the composite production room (step 2 in flowchart). JFM source.

Contrary to other aircraft currently in use by the Myanmar air force, DART-450 are made of composites with a base of carbon fibre. This design choice helps reduce aircraft weight and increase fuel efficiency. In addition to lower weight, composites are also considered to be beneficial over metals such as aluminium due to their resistance to corrosion and fatigue when in active use.

Justice For Myanmar understands that some of the composites for the DART-450 aircraft project in Myanmar came from the German company ECC - Engineered Cramer Composites.

The DART-450 aircraft has a provision to carry an electro-optical / infrared (EO / IR) sensor gimbal that can retract into the underbody. According to information shared with Justice For Myanmar, negotiations have been underway with Diamond Aircraft Industries and the Myanmar military to install an OTUS-U250 EO/IR System, manufactured by the Swedish company DST Control AB, on eight of the DART-450 aircrafts and the GWX-80 Digital Weather Radar, manufactured by American, Swiss-domiciled multinational technology company Garmin, on all aircraft.

Justice For Myanmar has also obtained photographic evidence of high precision machines – including Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines – of German and Austrian make. These machines appear to have been acquired with the support of Diamond Aircraft Industries to enable the local assembly of the DART-450 aircraft in Myanmar, and have been shipped in 2018-2019. By 2021, the CNC machines at the DART-450 facility in Myanmar were almost fully installed.

CNC and other machinery identified in use in the DART-450 facility in Myanmar include Austrian company Felder’s Sliding Table Panel Saw Felder K 500 Professional used to cut the composite.

A Felder saw machine in the Myanmar military's DART-450 production facility, used to cut pieces out of the composite. JFM source.

Photographic evidence also confirms several machines manufactured by German company Schuko for cleaning dust powder from composites after glass fiber and carbon fiber are laminated to the mould and cut to form fragments, including the Vacomat 180 XP(e) mobile dust extractor and the Vacomat 200 XP(e) mobile dust extractor, the former operating with extraction arms manufactured and sold by Plymovent, a company incorporated in the Netherlands.

A Schuko vacuum system installed in the Myanmar military's DART-450 facility, used to clean dust powder from composites after the glass fiber and carbon fiber are laminated to the mould. JFM source.

Sources also confirm the use of a 5-axis CNC portal milling machine manufactured by the Germany company Styrotec, used for the manufacture of many of the aircraft parts and to make moulds.

A CNC portal milling machine from German manufacturer Styrotec to be used in the Myanmar for manufacturing aircraft parts and moulds. JFM source.

Diamond training

Diamond Aircraft Industries provided extensive training to Myanmar military personnel in how to assemble the aircraft. According to Information obtained by Justice For Myanmar, since 2018, members of the Myanmar military have been trained in Myanmar and in Austria in how to assemble and maintain the aircraft. These training events lasted for months and have specifically focused on aspects related to engineering, including the engine, airframe, pre-assembly, assembly, composite and electronics aspects needed to assemble, maintain and repair the aircraft.

When travelling to Austria, military personnel have travelled as civilians with civilian passports, masking their military end-purpose of the travel, with visas supported by Diamond Aircraft Industries.

Photo of Myanmar military personnel during a break from their training with Diamond Aircraft Industries in Austria. Facebook.

Justice For Myanmar has obtained information about the timing of several of these training sessions. Between May and July 2019, there was production training, including for composites, at Diamond Aircraft’s facilities in Austria. Some air force pilots also went to Austria in April 2019. Maintenance and wing assembly engineering training was organised in Austria in September and October 2019, which covered composites, final assembly and European Union Aviation Safety Agency regulations.

While assembling the first DART-450 aircraft in Myanmar, practical training was organised for personnel from the Myanmar military in both Austria and in Meiktila, Myanmar. Upon their return from training in Austria, Myanmar military personnel have been responsible for pre-assembly, assembly, and composite work in the DART-450 production plant in Myanmar.

Photo taken during training of Myanmar military personnel at Diamond Aircraft Industries in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. The location of the training has been confirmed through analysis of YouTube footage from a guided tour of the facility. JFM source.

While the DART-450 aircraft are primarily assembled in Austria, many of the avionics system components for the aircraft, including for those provided to Myanmar, are manufactured by companies domiciled in other countries, including Ukraine (Motor Sich AI-450S turboprop engine), Switzerland (Garmin avionics suite, which includes high-resolution, primary flight displays and multi-functional displays), the United Kingdom (SIRS Navigation for magnetic standby compasses), the United States (Electronics International for engine and airframe interface, and Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics for standby attitude modules), as well France (Safran-owned subsidiary McMurdo for emergency locator transmitters and remote control panels).

Diamond Aircraft International’s transfer of technology may have aided and abetted the Myanmar military’s international crimes

Under the EU arms embargo on Myanmar, in force during the project period, it is illegal to provide arms, dual use goods, and equipment used for internal repression to Myanmar, in addition to restrictions on military training and military cooperation.

Justice For Myanmar notes that while the DART-450 can be considered a dual-use good, in the case of the DART-450 project in Myanmar, the use is clearly not civilian and would therefore be illegal under EU restrictive measures on Myanmar. As a member of the European Union, Austria and Austrian companies are expected to comply with these measures.

Diamond Aircraft Industries has knowingly supplied the Myanmar military with reconnaissance aircraft and transferred the technology that the military, beyond doubt, would use to continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Since its attempted coup in February 2021, the military has been waging a campaign of terror against the people of Myanmar, committing deliberate killings, arbitrary arrests, indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling, sexual violence and torture. The junta has killed more than 3,600 people, arbitrarily arrested over 23,000 and displaced more than 1.5 million.

Diamond Aircraft Industries should immediately put an end to any collaboration with Miya Win International, the Myanmar military and halt any agreed consignments of additional hardware to Myanmar. Not doing so further exposes the company to liability under EU restrictive measures and under international law on the grounds of aiding and abetting atrocity crimes.

Austrian export control authorities fail to control dual use goods exports to Myanmar

It is deplorable that the military's DART-450 project has proceeded despite the EU arms embargo on Myanmar. Beyond the transfer of technology itself, the parts and components as well as the composite materials and machinery identified as exported to Myanmar would be classified as dual-use goods and would need an export control authorisation from Austrian or other relevant export control authorities prior to being exported to Myanmar. While the DART-450 aircraft can also be used for civilian end-purposes, the project to locally assemble DART aircraft in Myanmar is clearly not intended for civilian end-use.

There is reason to believe that export control authorities in Austria have not acted in accordance with EU restrictive measures on Myanmar.

Miya Win International is a known arms broker for the Myanmar military and has been exposed for procuring other equipment for the military from Austria, including unmanned aerial vehicles and parts from Schiebel Corporation, and a flight simulator from Axis Simulation. A recent report by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, released in January 2023, identified Austrian company GMF Steyr as playing an important role in the Myanmar military’s in-country production of small arms. The report found that high-precision machines for industrial application manufactured by the company were being used by the Myanmar army’s Office of the Chief of Defence Industries (OCDI) to manufacture gun barrels.

Taken together, these cases raise urgent questions over Austrian support for the Myanmar military’s warfare capabilities.

Justice For Myanmar calls for immediate action by Austrian authorities to suspend exports and licence production agreements with Miya Win International and the Myanmar military, to investigate Diamond Aircraft Industries’ and other Austrian businesses dealing with these entities, and to take action to hold parties to account for any breaches of the law.

We further urge the German, Dutch, Swedish, Swiss and US governments to investigate any possible arms embargo breaches by companies in their territory that have been involved in the Myanmar military’s DART-450 project, and to take action.

UK authorities should investigate Wanfeng (UK) Aviation, which may be in breach of UK sanctions in relation to its subsidiary, Diamond Aircraft Industries.

Sanctions must urgently be imposed on Miya Win International and its owners and directors by the European Union and its allies.