Bharat Electronics Limited supplying technology to Myanmar since attempted military coup

June 14, 2021

Indian arms manufacturer Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has supplied radar technology to Myanmar since the brutal and illegal February 1 military coup attempt.

BEL’s continued supply of technology comes as the military intensifies attacks on civilians as part of a widening campaign of terror. More than 860 have been murdered by the military since the attempted coup, including 74 children and over 4700 pro-democracy protesters and supporters have been arrested. Over 200,000 have been displaced in indiscriminate airstrikes and military operations in ethnic areas, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Egregious acts of the junta's violence include the recent horrific assault on Mindat in Chin State, where the military used civilians as human shields, and a vicious offensive in Karenni State that has emptied villages and involved attacks on churches.

According to Indian export data, reviewed by Justice For Myanmar, there have been at least seven shipments to Myanmar since the attempted coup, largely of radar components.

BEL has agreements in place with Beretta and Elettronica (Italy), Saab (Sweden), Terma (Denmark) and Thales (France/Netherlands), whose technology transfers are subject to the EU arms embargo on Myanmar.

The shipments since the attempted coup are likely parts for a coastal surveillance system that BEL designed for the Myanmar military and which the company listed as one of its “major orders” in its 2020 Annual Report.

Terma has an agreement with BEL for the provision of coastal surveillance radar. Thales has also transferred radar equipment to Myanmar, according to information received by Justice For Myanmar. There is therefore a possibility that Myanmar's coastal surveillance system could involve technology from the EU in potential breach of the EU arms embargo on Myanmar, as the system can be used for repression.

Terma has denied the possibility that their technology is implicated in BEL's transfers, in an email to Justice For Myanmar: "We can document that our cooperation with BEL does not include the possibility for BEL to export any Terma radars or Terma technology for use outside of India. It is also not possible for BEL to assemble or manufacture Terma radars without supplies from Terma. This effectively controls the production of Terma radars at BEL."

Items BEL exported to Myanmar since the attempted coup include electro optic systems, radar video extractor receivers, VHF communications systems, graphics processors, workstation hardware, server storage, batteries and other surveillance radar components.

The shipments also include 15 metre towers. In February 2020, Bharat Electronics Limited published a tender for “work of Fabrication and supply of Structural Steel Tower of 15m and 50m Height for Coastal Surveillance System (CSS) in Myanmar”

The coastal surveillance system is provided under a technical agreement signed during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Myanmar in 2017, during the military’s campaign of genocide against the Rohingya. The agreement was signed by Navy Rear Admiral Moe Aung, a director of military conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings Limited. India is building a network of coastal surveillance systems in neighbouring states.

Myanmar’s military moved to establish a coast guard in 2019, under naval command. The Myanmar Navy was part of the military’s “clearance operations” against the Rohingya in 2017. The navy also joined recent operations in Arakan involving atrocity crimes, including a 2020 attack on a boat delivering supplies for the Red Cross.

All BEL shipments were sent to the Directorate of Procurement through Yangon from inland container depots in Jaipur and Bangalore, India. BEL’s Bangalore facility manufactures a range of radar, military communications and weapons systems.

The export dates range from February 27 to March 29, 2021. There were further shipments in December 2020 and January 2021, including 1000 units described as “spares for control centre” and 12,200 units descried as “installation materials”.

In August 2019, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar published a report into the military’s economic interests, finding that companies that continue to transfer arms and dual use goods could be in breach of international law by aiding the military’s atrocity crimes, which the military carries out with total impunity.

BEL not only supplies technology to the military but also operates an office in Myanmar, raising grave concerns over the company’s enabling of the criminal military junta. BEL registered their Myanmar representative office in 2018, following the military’s campaign of genocide against the Rohingya.

BEL’s Yangon-based Chief Regional Manager describes his role on Linkedin as “to develop export market for BEL’s products and solutions in Myanmar and surrounding South East Asian countries.”

Myanmar is one of only six overseas branches, which include a registered foreign business corporation in New York City.

Who is BEL?

BEL is one of the world’s top 100 arms-producing and military service companies, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

BEL manufactures a wide range of military technology including radars, missile systems, naval systems, combat management systems, command and control systems, electronic warfare systems, signals intelligence systems, electro-optics, tank electronics and military communications.

BEL is a majority state-owned arms company, under India’s Ministry of Defence. It is also listed on the National Stock Exchange of India, with shares held by international pension funds, banks and other institutional investors around the world.

In 2019, international war criminal and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing led a delegation to BEL during a state visit to India, where gifts were exchanged with company leaders. The Myanmar military delegation was given a presentation about BEL weapons, including missile systems. Min Aung Hlaing toured BEL’s Ghaziabad facility, which is responsible for the production of radars, antenna systems and command and control systems. At the time of the visit, the Myanmar military violation of international human rights and humanitarian was well documented.

BEL’s majority shareholder is the Indian Government, which holds over 51%. Its biggest international shareholders include the Indian subsidiary of Nippon Life Insurance Company, with holdings worth US$250 million, and Goldman Sachs Asset Management, with holdings worth US235 million, according to their last filings.

The OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights both clearly set out that international investors have a responsibility to use their leverage to ensure their investee companies act to prevent or mitigate human rights abuses. Investors are expected to divest from companies like Bharat Electronics Limited that have repeatedly failed to uphold their human rights responsibilities.

Any company that continues to hold shares in BEL contributes to BEL’s heinous conduct in Myanmar. We call on BEL shareholders to immediately divest from the company due to its continued transfers of technology to the Myanmar military.

BEL has deep ties to the Myanmar military. As early as 2004, the transfer of BEL radars was discussed in bilateral talks during a visit to India by then military dictator Senior General Than Shwe.  

In 2018, BEL sent a shipment of land-based radars to Myanmar Consultancy Company, one of the military’s arms brokers. It is the only BEL shipment found that went to an intermediary rather than the military directly. According to Indian export records, the shipment included weapon locating radar and “Bharni Model No. BH 0006”, which is most like a Bharani low level light weight radar. According to BEL’s website, the weapon locating radar tracks the location of gun, rocket and mortar fire and can the fall of shot from the military’s own weapons. BEL describes it as a “force multiplier to enhance the combat potential of our forces and optimise the effectiveness of our weapon systems” The Bharani is designed for surveillance of low and medium altitude air targets, including UAVs.  

BEL’s international partners

BEL has partnerships with major international defence manufacturers, which involve technology transfers that are subject to international arms controls. The companies below also have obligations under the OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to prevent human rights violations in their business relationships.

As long as BEL continues their business with Myanmar, there is an unacceptable risk that transfers of technology to BEL can end up benefiting Myanmar’s military generals. Justice For Myanmar calls on the companies below to suspend cooperation with BEL until it ends its business in Myanmar.

Thales (France/Netherlands)

Thales is a French multinational corporation listed in Paris. It has a subsidiary in the Netherlands that manufactures radars, sensors and naval combat system, formerly Hollandse Signaalapparaten, which developed LW-04 technology. The technology was transferred to BEL in the 1960s and BEL has since modernised that technology in its radar systems. BEL has also received LW-08 radar technology from Thales in the 1990s. This technology, originating in the Netherlands, formed the basis for BEL RAWL-02 Mk II radars transferred to Myanmar.

Thales’ link to BEL’s RAWL-02 Mk II transfers to Myanmar was exposed by Dutch arms control organisation Stop Wapenhandel in 2015 and subsequently raised in parliament. At the time, Foreign Minister Koenders disclosed to parliament that “the conditions of the export license stated that the LW-08 technology was intended for the Indian navy and that BEL was therefore not allowed to supply licensed radars to third parties without prior permission from the Dutch export control authorities. This clause is laid down in the contract between Thales and BEL and subsequently confirmed in the end-user statement issued by BEL.”

The Foreign Minister went on to explain that BEL was aware of its contractual obligations with Thales and that the Dutch government would not grant permission for exports to Myanmar under the EU arms embargo. The Minister pledged “to remain in active contact with Thales about deliveries to Indian companies and monitor these applications very closely.”

Indian export records show BEL RAWL-02 Mk II radars and parts were transferred to Myanmar in 2016 and 2017, after Dutch parliamentary scrutiny.

Justice For Myanmar has also received information regarding the sale of Thales radars to Myanmar, which could be connected to BEL’s recent transfers.

Thales’ cooperation with BEL and other Indian arms manufacturers has deepened, as BEL exports to the Myanmar military continued.

BEL and Thales operate a joint venture, BEL-Thales Systems Limited (BTSL) formed in 2014 to design, develop and sell radars for India and for export, with an intention to expand into other fields within the “defence electronics domain”.

Thales’ joint venture even promoted one of the personnel involved in BEL’s deal with the Myanmar military. BTSL’s current system engineering manager was responsible for designing and coding the Myanmar Navy’s radar controller software for the RAWL-02 Mk II radar system, according to their profile on Linkedin.

In 2016, Thales and BTSL signed a partnership agreement for the development of PHAROS, a tracking radar for gun and missile control.

As part of BEL’s partnership with Thales, BEL manufactured transmit/receive modules for the RBE2 AESA (active electronic scanning array) radar for Dassault Aviation Rafale aircraft. The program involved technology transfer to BEL, with the training of BEL engineers in France.

Thales also has an MoU with Bharat Dynamics Limited that includes the transfer of technology for the STARStreak Air Defence system. Bharat Dynamics Limited has transferred torpedoes to Myanmar and was identified by the UN Fact Finding Mission as a business that “could have a direct and reasonably foreseeable impact on the human rights situation in Myanmar” as a result of its transfer of advanced light torpedoes.

Three out of the four current BTSL directors listed on the company’s website are also concurrently serving as directors of BEL’s representative office in Myanmar, and therefore directly responsible for BEL’s business with the Myanmar military.

Thales partnership with BEL and business with Myanmar raises concerns regarding Thales human rights due diligence and compliance with the EU arms embargo.

Elettronica and Beretta (Italy)

Elettronica is a defence manufacturer that specialises in electronic military systems.

In 2019, it signed an MoU with BEL for the development and manufacturing of electronic warfare systems, according to the France’s defence procurement agency.

During Myanmar’s previous military dictatorship, Elettronica and Saab were exposed in a 2007 report for their involvement in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s program to design and produce the Dhruv advanced light helicopter. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited negotiated the transfer of helicopters to the Myanmar military, making a “mockery” of the EU arms embargo.

Elettronica’s business in India came under fire during the Panama Papers leak, which revealed kickbacks for Indian navy and air force contracts.

In February 2021, firearms manufacturer Beretta signed an agreement with BEL for the production of close quarter carbines and other small arms. The deal was signed with Anandi Ramalingan, who is also a director of BEL’s Myanmar representative office.

Terma (Denmark)

Terma is a Danish company owned by the Thomas B. Thriges Foundation, producing military systems including surveillance radars, sensors and electronic warfare systems. It has technology transfer agreements with BEL that include the manufacture of radars as part of a coastal surveillance system for India, which is likely the provider of technology recently transferred to Myanmar. The second phase of the project was agreed in 2020, in an agreement involving M V Gowtama of BEL. M V Gowtama is also a director of BEL’s representative office in Myanmar.

As Terma’s transfer of technology agreement with BEL involved coastal surveillance radar, BEL’s recent exports to Myanmar may require Danish approval. Under the EU arms embargo, this approval should not have been granted as there is an unacceptable risk that the coastal surveillance radar could be used for repression.

Terma denies the possibility that BEL could export their radars or technology to Myanmar.

Saab (Sweden)

Saab is an aerospace and defence company, listed in Stockholm. BEL and Saab jointly developed a land and ship-based L-Band 3D air surveillance radar, RAWL-03.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs described the radar as “cost-effective” and highlighted BEL’s international clients, even mentioning Myanmar. The ministry’s statement described the radar’s use “for early detection and tracking of air and surface targets, thereby enabling engagement of fire control systems to neutralise the same.”  

The companies signed a marketing MoU, which was announced in 2018. According to SAAB, the project is “an example of true transfer of technology – building capability in India, for India. This partnership will also enable India to be the global manufacturing hub to build the entire radar in future.”

SAAB’s marketing deal with BEL came after the Rohingya genocide and followed BEL’s transfer of associated radar technology to the Myanmar military in 2015 and 2016.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems (Israel)

BEL is a partner in Israel’s biggest defence contract, through a contract with IAI to build a US$630 million air defence missile system for four Indian navy ships, which include a naval radar system, as part of a US$1.6 billion air defence deal.

In 2012 and 2018, BEL and IAI signed MoUs on cooperation for long range surface to air missile ship systems.

In 2020, BEL and IAI signed an MoU to establish a technical and maintenance centre for air defence systems.

IAI was named by the UN Fact Finding Mission for its transfer of four Super-Dvora MKIII fast attack boats to Myanmar, which supports the military’s atrocities.  

Elbit Systems has two agreements with BEL that involve the transfer of technology. One, signed in 2020, is for the development and customisation of Unmanned Surface Vessels. A second, agreed in 2019, is for the manufacture and supply of helmets equipped with electro optical infrared systems.

Following the Rohingya genocide, Israel’s High Court imposed a ban on arms sales to Myanmar.

Global arms embargo now!

It is appalling that BEL has continued transfers of military technology to Myanmar, even after the military’s failing coup attempt. As the military intensifies its terror campaign against the people of Myanmar, BEL is profiting from the bloodshed and stands complicit in the military’s crimes.

BEL’s exports demonstrate the urgent need for a global arms embargo on Myanmar. In February, Justice For Myanmar joined 136 organisations around the world demanding the UN Security Council impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar.

However, the UN has persistently failed to uphold human rights in Myanmar by imposing an arms embargo. In May it emerged that ASEAN was leading a push against a global arms embargo involving Vietnam. Like India, Vietnam is also complicit in the Myanmar military’s international crimes through the transfer of technology.  

Justice For Myanmar reiterates calls for a global arms embargo on Myanmar.

In the absence of global action, India’s deplorable support for the Myanmar military junta needs to be opposed by allied countries. Indian arms companies have transferred other items in recent times, including a submarine, torpedoes and artillery. India has also provided training for the Myanmar military and the country sent an official representative to the junta’s Armed Forces Day, legitimising the attempted coup.

BEL’s shareholders and partners have leverage. They must stop investing in BEL and suspend their business as long as BEL continues to transfer technology to the Myanmar military junta.

The EU and its member states must ensure the EU arms embargo is enforced and scrutinise businesses that are transferring technology to BEL and all other arms companies doing business with the Myanmar military. Any involvement of EU-based companies in the transfer of arms and dual use goods to Myanmar needs to be thoroughly investigated.

The lives of the people of Myanmar must be put above profits.

Update (Jun. 14, 2021)

Terma comment added to text, denying that BEL could export Terma radars or technology to Myanmar.