The Myanmar military are using Australian radios to commit atrocities

October 18, 2021

Australia based company Barrett Communications has been selling radio communications equipment to the Myanmar military.

A leaked November 2020 invitation for quotation from the Directorate of Procurement of the Office of the Commander in Chief (Army) for radio communications spare parts and accessories include requests for equipment manufactured by Barrett Communications.

For Barrett’s PRC-2090 manpack, the request includes tactical handsets, battery packs, display modules, internal modems, antenna tuning units and power amplifier interfaces. Portable stabilisers are requested for Barrett’s 2050 transceiver.

In 2018, the office of Myanmar army’s quartermaster general also included Barrett 2050 transceivers in an April to September budget request.

According to Barrett Communications, their last record of radio equipment sold to Myanmar was in 2017, with approval from the Australian government. The company would not disclose the identity of the end user, the items sold or the date of sale, stating that "all business transactions are commercial in confidence." 2017 is the year that the military launched a campaign of genocide against the Rohingya.

Martin Johnson, Director of Business Development at Barrett Communications, acknowledged that PRC-2090 manpack parts could have been sold to the Myanmar military by third party sellers without authorisation from Barrett Communications:

"None of the parts that have been indicated are controlled items. They are used on both commercial and tactical equipment, and they are often held in stock by customers and suppliers around the world. It is possible spare parts were supplied through a third party."

The PRC-2090 manpack specifications include frequency hopping, according to the company’s website. Radios with frequency hopping capabilities are listed on Australia’s Defence and Strategic Goods List of arms and related materiel, and sale to Myanmar is prohibited. Barrett Communications' Director of Business Development Martin Johnson told Justice For Myanmar that frequency hopping is not a standard item on the PRC-2090.

The export of arms and related material to Myanmar that are not covered by Australia’s Defence and Strategic Goods List should be prohibited under Australia’s sanctions regime.

Our Evidence

Myanmar Army’s invitation for quotation: Download PDF (1.4mb)

Ministry of Defence April to September 2018 budget: Download PDF (3.0mb)

Barrett’s history of complicity

Barrett Communications has been selling communications equipment to the Myanmar military since as early as 2002, under the previous junta.

In 2010, the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the Myanmar military were using Barrett Communications advanced 2050 mobile transceivers, which were deployed at Myanmar army commands.

At the time, Barrett Communications stated that their radios sold to Myanmar did not include a frequency-hopping function, which would have breached Australian sanctions.

However, intelligence expert Professor Desmond Ball state that “I have been present when communications using Barrett 2050 transmitters have been received and can assure you they are being used in both encrypted and frequency-hopping modes.”

In August 2010, Australia’s foreign ministry told parliament that Barrett Communications had confirmed that the radios sold to Myanmar “were of a standard configuration and did not have frequency-hopping capabilities”.

An article in Jane’s Intelligence Review (archived copy available here) found that it was possible to acquire Barrett Communications radios with an activated frequency hopping system via Singapore and noted their wide use by the Myanmar military: “Tatmadaw division level units increasingly use the Barrett 2050 in the Eastern, North East, and Central Regional Commands, according to a source that monitors Tatmadaw communications.”

“Civil” aviation procurement

The Myanmar military uses the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) of the Ministry of Transport and Communications to procure technology from Australia, exploiting a loophole in Australian sanctions.

According to a source with knowledge of air force operations, the DCA is closely connected to the air force. Active air force personnel work together with DCA staff and report to the Air Defence Command. DCA leadership is made up of retired air force officers. Under the previous dictatorship, the junta began using the DCA for military procurement to circumvent sanctions, falsely classifying items as for “civilian use”.

A 2019 list published by Myanmar’s telecommunications regulator shows that Barrett 2050 radios are deployed in airports around Myanmar under the DCA, where they in fact support air force operations. The list includes airports operated by the military, which receive little or no civilian traffic. These include Pathein, connected to a major air force base, and Aniksan. Other airports where Barrett radios are in use serve both civilian and military aircraft. Examples include Yangon, used by military transport planes, and Naypyidaw.

Since the military’s February 1 attempted coup, the Myanmar Department of Civil Aviation is again under military control.

The Myanmar Air Force is responsible for ongoing atrocities, indiscriminately bombing communities, killing civilians, destroying property, and driving ethnic and religious minorities off their land. For instance, in September, the military attacked the Chin town of Thantlang, using air strikes, killing civilians and forcing thousands to flee. In March, an estimated 3,000 villagers were forced to flee to Thailand to escape indiscriminate air strikes in Karen State. This terror is evidence of the military's failing coup and desperate attempt to gain control of Myanmar.

Barrett Communications is a privately owned business headquartered in Perth, with offices in the UK and USA. The company uses a network of distributors, including some in Malaysia and Russia, although Justice For Myanmar could not ascertain if any of their distributors are involved in the sale of equipment to the Myanmar military.

Barrett Communications' Director of Business Development Martin Johnson gave the following response regarding business with the Myanmar military: “Barrett Communications maintain a rigorous internal policy and procedure with respect to the quotation and sale of products globally. Our policy is fully aligned and maintained with the stringent requirements of the Department of Export Control (DEC) Defence Strategic Goods List (DSGL) and Dual-Use controls, and Department for Foreign Affairs (DFAT) with respect to sanctioned individuals, organisations and countries.”

Other Australian companies

Codan Limited, a competitor of Barrett Communications, that is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, has also sold radios that have been licenced to the DCA. Codan radios, including models 9480, 9360-30 and 8528, are deployed in military airports around Myanmar, including Homalin, Magwe, Namsang and Toungoo.

Justice For Myanmar wrote to Codan with questions on their shipments to Myanmar and the identity of the end users. The company has not provided a response.

In 2020, Myanmar military broker Mega Hill General Trading submitted a proposal to the army’s directorate of procurement that included ultra-long range telemetry radio modems from the Australian company RFDesign Pty Ltd. The company’s website includes terms and conditions that goods will not be used in relation to biological or chemical weapons. Justice For Myanmar sent questions to RFDesign regarding its exports to Myanmar but has not received a response.

End Australian complicity

The sale of dual use goods to the Myanmar military is a result of Australian negligence that aids and abets the military’s crimes. After the 2017 genocide against the Rohingya, Australia stood out among Western democracies for refusing to sanction the military leaders responsible, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and even rewarded the Myanmar military with continued defence cooperation.

Following the Myanmar military’s unlawful coup attempt, Australia has again failed to act with new targeted sanctions and a strengthening of export controls, allowing defence manufacturers to continue business as usual.

The Myanmar military is a terrorist organisation. Since the attempted coup, 1178 people, including children, have been murdered by the military junta, and over 9000 people have been arrested. This campaign of terror is enabled by Australian communications equipment.

We demand that the Australian government immediately impose targeted sanctions on the Myanmar junta, its businesses, and arms brokers, strengthen export controls and investigate any unlawful exports of dual use goods. Australian complicity with the Myanmar military terrorists must stop.