India’s BEL continues support for Myanmar junta with exports of over $5M in military end-use equipment in 6 months to April ‘23

June 21, 2023

Indian arms manufacturing company Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has continued selling military end-use material and technology to the illegal Myanmar military junta, according to Indian export records analysed by Justice For Myanmar.

Over a period of six months from November 2022 to April 2023, BEL transferred numerous military-end use products to Myanmar for a total value of US$5.1 million. These transfers have been done either directly to the Myanmar military, or the Myanmar companies Alliance Engineering Consultancy and Mega Hill General Trading, which are known arms brokers.

The shipments consisted of military end-use goods, technology, and technical documents to be used by the Myanmar military.

Items included metallic sonar domes; transducers and gaskets for the domes to be used on frigates, warships or submarines; directing gear systems; technical documents; sliprings and external fasteners; various items for item radio transmission or radar equipment, including base plates and power supplies; and manpack radios for communication while in the battlefield.

They are part of a pattern of Indian support for the Myanmar military and its domestic arms industry. Justice For Myanmar calls on India’s Quad partners and other allies to use their leverage to pressure India to stop the supply of arms and dual use goods and technology to the Myanmar military junta, including during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visits to the USA and France this year.  

India and the Myanmar military have long-standing defence cooperation. In his speech on 25 December 2022, junta head and war criminal Min Aung Hlaing highlighted a need for large warships with high combat capabilities and the training of navy officers to operate the large warships, noting that naval officers had been sent to other countries, including Russia, China and India, to enhance their individual capabilities. India has trained Myanmar military personnel and undertaken joint naval exercises.

BEL has been supplying the Myanmar military with full knowledge that they can aid and abet its ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Myanmar Navy took part in the campaign of genocide against the Rohingya, and regularly intercepts Rohingya vessels for the junta and arbitrary arrests those on board.

BEL is controlled by the Indian government, which is the company’s majority shareholder, and its business with the Myanmar military amounts to a flagrant disregard for India’s obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law and its commitments under the Wassenaar arrangement.

BEL’s recent shipments to Myanmar follow numerous prior transfers of weapon systems to the Myanmar junta. In July 2021, BEL exported a remote-controlled weapon station (RCWS) to Myanmar, exposed in an earlier Justice For Myanmar report. A June 2021 investigation by Justice For Myanmar showed that BEL had exported a coastal surveillance system to Myanmar immediately before and following the military's illegal February 1, 2021 attempted coup. BEL has also provided RAWL-Mk II radar equipment for the Myanmar Navy. On its official website, BEL lists the 2014 inauguration by the Myanmar Navy of a ship with BEL's Sonar and Radar systems as a major export achievement for the company, publicly announcing also that the order was high-value totalling USD 70.6 million. In July 2019, Min Aung Hlaing visited BEL’s production units in Ghaziabad, India. BEL continues to operate a marketing office in Myanmar.

War criminal Min Aung Hlaing visits Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) in Ghaziabad, India, in 2019. Min Aung Hlaing's website.

Myanmar military among recipients of recent transfers, further confirming BEL’s blatant disregard for end-use of products

On numerous occasions, BEL has transferred items to the Myanmar army’s Directorate of Procurement, including after it was sanctioned by the US and UK. The fact that the Directorate of Procurement in Myanmar is listed as the recipient on trade-related documents eliminates any doubt of who the end-recipient would be.

On April 21, 2023, shipment records confirm that BEL transferred the following items for a total value of US$55,000 to the Myanmar military:

  • Hoses of silicone rubber. The military typically requires specialist silicone hoses designed and built to high specifications and often requiring special shaped hoses, diameters, lengths and materials.
  • Slip rings and slip ring holders that allow for the transmission of power and electrical signals from a stationary to a rotating structure. A slip ring can be used in any electromechanical system that requires rotation while transmitting power or signals. In the military, sliprings can be used for shipborne radar turntables, rotating turrets on military armoured vehicles, airborne radar turntables or guidance systems such as the remote-controlled weapon station that BEL transferred to the junta in June 2021, and the RAWL-Mk II radar equipment that BEL has supplied to the Myanmar Navy.
  • Sets of external fasteners that mechanically affix or join objects together. Military grade fasteners play a vital role across the army, navy, and air force.
  • Mounting base plates (true north) with the harmonised system (HS) code 8529.90, confirming that the item is a part for use with radio transmission or radar equipment.

On December 31, 2022, BEL shipped a metallic dummy dome (BMS-X) for a total value of US$52,000 to the Myanmar army’s Directorate of Procurement. The listed HS code for the item – 9014.80.90 – indicates that it is a direction finding compass or navigational instrument or appliance. An export brochure published by BEL in May 2023 indicates that sonar domes can be integrated with the Hull Mounted Sonar X2 sonar system designed for frigates and warships. Specifically, the configuration has a modular system architecture so that variants of the system for each class of naval ship can be configured from the same basic building blocks. The system is supplied with associated auxiliary equipment, including a nearfield acoustic characterisation system for calibration of transducers, sonar domes, and directing gears for the transducer array.

In 2015, BEL transferred Hull Mounted Sonar systems (HMS-X) to Myanmar for use on the Aung Zeya class frigate, the first guided missile frigate built domestically by the Myanmar military.

Photo of Myanmar Navy personnel at India's Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory, inspecting submarine systems. The image is reproduced in BEL's 2023 export booklet under the production description for hull mounted sonar.

On March 16, 2023, BEL shipped ten items worth a total of US$4.9 million which appeared to be sent to Tatmadaw Heavy Industries. This shipment included:

  • A sonar transducer and associated main equipment (specified to be wet end). Submarines and warships use sonar systems to navigate deep waters. Sonar is also used for mine detection, providing depth information and anti-submarine warfare.
  • A directing gear system. A directing gear is an electro-mechanical system that supports transducer arrays of hull mounted ship sonar systems, such as those developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation.
  • An underwater telephony system used to communicate by sending and receiving messages below water, coupled with three sets of unspecified technical documents and test equipment.
  • An expendable bathy thermograph, which is a probe that can be launched from a ship or submarine to measures the temperature as it falls through the water.
  • Unspecified main equipment, installation material and spares for “on board” use.  

These shipments may be destined for use with the Myanmar Navy’s kilo-class submarine acquired from India and commissioned in 2020. Refitted by Hindustan Shipyard Limited prior to being handed over to the Myanmar Navy, the submarine partly operates with Indian systems, including sonar reportedly supplied by BEL.

BEL’s export brochure indicates that the company’s Submarine Sonar Suite (SMS-X) is a compendium of multiple sensors for passive detection which collates different characteristics of the same target and provides target data through information fusion. Designed for kilo-class submarines, the sonars in the suite include passive sonar, active sonar, intercept sonar, obstacle avoidance sonar and underwater telephony.

An Indian defence intelligence news report from October 2020 also confirms that the Myanmar military had an agreement to receive armaments and electronic equipment, including radars manufactured by BEL for its frigates and corvettes.

Shipments to known military arms brokers Mega Hill General Trading and Alliance Engineering Services

On February 24, 2023, BEL transferred three MHS-355 manpack radios to Mega Hill General Trading for a total value of US$43,000. Manpack radios are communications systems that are compact and lightweight enough to be carried by a single operator, typically in a backpack, for use in the battlefield. According to BEL’s product description for the radios shipped to Myanmar, they provide “reliable transmission of critical information under EW condition” and secure transmission and anti-jamming protection through frequency hopping.

On December 28, 2022, BEL shipped six manpack radios (advanced DSP based lightweight 20W HF SSB) for a total value of US$56,000.  

BEL's HF SSB manpack radio. BEL website.

A BEL shipment on November 29, 2022 to Mega Hill General Trading included lithium accumulators for a value of US$5,600. BEL’s export booklet of 2023 highlights BEL’s current state of the art infrastructure for design, development and manufacturing of military-grade battery packs for military use, including rechargeable batteries of the type exported to Myanmar, commonly used for portable communication sets, surveillance equipment and field radars.

Mega Hill General Trading is a private Myanmar military contractor that has a history of procuring technology and providing services to the army’s Directorate of Procurement, which Justice For Myanmar has previously revealed.

On 6 February 2023, BEL shipped five items worth US$21,000 to Myanmar company Alliance Engineering Services. The shipment included power supplymodules and regulated power supplies, potentially for shipboard power supply, and three sonar dome gaskets. Sonar domes, located on the hulls of warships, protect critical electronic equipment used for detection and navigation. The domes permit acoustic energy to pass through with minimal sound transmission interference.

Records from Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) confirm Kyaw Aung as the director of Alliance Engineering Services, and Win Min Hein as its sole shareholder. The company was founded by Linn Lett Thiri, wife of Ivan Htet, who is the son of the junta’s former air force chief Maung Maung Kyaw. While it is managed by Win Min Hein, it is led by Ivan Htet, according to a Reuters investigation.

Justice For Myanmar calls on the US, EU, UK, Canada and Australia to impose targeted sanctions on Mega Hill General Trading, Alliance Engineering Services, their networks, directors and shareholders.

Facebook profile of Ivan Htet with his wife, Linn Lett Thiri. Facebook.

India: Stop arming the Myanmar junta!

The latest shipments from BEL are further evidence of the urgency for international action to stop the supply of arms and related materiel to the Myanmar junta.

The Myanmar military junta is a terrorist organisation under Myanmar law and as defined in international law, and it should be treated as such by the international community. Since the attempted coup on February 1, 2021, more than 3,600 people, including children, have been murdered by the military junta, and over 23,000 people have been arrested. The military has committed rape and sexual violence against women, and indiscriminately bombed and shelled communities, causing deaths, property destruction and mass displacement. The Indian government, BEL, Alliance Engineering Services, Mega Hill General Trading and other businesses that supply the Myanmar military are complicit in these atrocities through the continued supply of arms, equipment and technology.

The recent BEL exports to Myanmar are part of a pattern of Indian complicity in the Myanmar military’s international crimes. India steadily increased defence co-operation with the Myanmar military after its campaign of genocide against the Rohingya in 2017. In July 2019, India and Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase defence co-operation. According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India was the third largest supplier of weapons to Myanmar for the years 2017-2022, behind Russia and China. In June 2021, India abstained from voting on a UN General Assembly resolution calling on “all member states to prevent the flow of arms to Myanmar”, noting that the views of member states were not reflected in the resolution text. In December 2022, India, together with China and Russia, abstained in a vote at the UN Security Council on a resolution that demanded an immediate end to violence in Myanmar.

India is a member of the Wassenaar Arrangement, an export control regime that promotes transparency of national export control regimes on conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies. Under this arrangement, India is expected to apply export controls on transfers of arms and dual-use goods and technologies. India also has obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to not transfer weapons when there is an expectation that these weapons could be used in violation of the Geneva Conventions, or to aid and abet atrocity crimes. The fact that BEL is an Indian state-owned company, coupled with the fact that Indian arms manufacturing companies have continued to supply weapons after the attempted coup in Myanmar, shows a serious disregard by the Indian government for its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, and its commitments under the Wassenaar Arrangement.

BEL is 51.14% owned by the Indian government and is publicly listed. Other shareholders include Nippon Life India Asset Management, Goldman Sachs, Vanguard, BlackRock, Fidelity, the Canadian Pension Plan, California Public Employees' Retirement System, California State Teachers Retirement System and Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec and the Swedish pension funds, AP-fonden (AP1), Andra AP-fonden (AP2) and Sjunde AP-fonden (AP7).  

The OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights compel institutional investors 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 BEL that have repeatedly failed to uphold their human rights responsibilities.

In July 2021, Nordea Bank placed BEL on its exclusion list for exporting arms to Myanmar. In February 2023, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund excluded BEL for selling arms to the Myanmar military, citing that such actions constitute "serious and systematic violations of international humanitarian law”. More investors must now follow.

Justice For Myanmar calls for India to immediately impose an arms embargo on the Myanmar miliary and end its support for the junta. India’s allies should use their leverage to end India’s support for the Myanmar junta.