Monday, January 4, 2010
Burmese Army Tunes in to Australian Technology
ADVANCED radio sets supplied to Burma by an Australian company have been diverted to military use, linking the Burmese Army's headquarters with key regional commands running its brutal wars against ethnic minorities, according to monitors of the sanction-shrouded country.
The radio sets, made and supplied by Barrett Communications of Perth, have been deployed in recent months at the Burmese Army's headquarters in the capital, Naypyidaw, and at the army's central, eastern and north-eastern commands involved in long-running campaigns against Shan and other insurgent forces.
The Burmese Government is tendering for 50 more of the Barrett 2050 high-frequency radio sets and associated data modems, which can carry voice, data, email and fax traffic with a high degree of reliability and security.
The radios use frequency-hopping software that switches messages rapidly between about 500 frequencies, making them hard to intercept and unscramble except by the most sophisticated intelligence agencies such as the US National Security Agency or Australia's Defence Signals Directorate. Desmond Ball of the Australian National University said he was told of the military's induction of the Barrett 2050 during recent research as part of a long-running project into Burma's military communication for the ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.
''Radio stations that monitor Burmese HF communications began detecting extensive use of these through the course of 2009 by the military at the highest command level, from the capital, Naypyidaw, to at least three of the regional commands,'' Professor Ball said. ''They are still using other systems for the divisions down to the brigades and battalions, but for the high-level military communications there is no doubt.''
The managing director of Barrett, Phil Bradshaw, said yesterday that his company had been supplying the civilian-model 2050 radios to Burma for some time through a local agent, with the approval of the Customs authorities vetting exports for conformity with sanctions against the military regime. ''They're not actually used by the military as such,'' he said. ''They're used for just internal communications within Burma.'' ''I can't say the army haven't used them, but I don't think they have. The export people know that we are sending these out. Our radios aren't for military use anyway. The ones that are going to Burma, they're straight Barrett 2050s with data systems which are used to send data from point A to point B. They're not tactical radios by any means.''
Mr Bradshaw confirmed that a Burmese Government ministry was presently tendering for 50 more of the 2050 radios and modems, and numerous small trading firms were trying to get involved in the deal.
Professor Ball said it was common for the Burmese military to get advanced dual-use technology through civilian fronts. ''That's how it gets a lot of their fibre-optic gear and all the rest. They pretend they are civilian. There's no other way they can get it for the military. These are high-quality things that the military badly wants: that frequency-hopping system basically defies monitoring.'' By Hamish McDonald, Asia Pacific editor for Sydney Morning Herald