An arms embargo is the strongest measure of arms control. And thus must be taken very seriously. In 2013, Stop Wapenhandel published on its website about a possible breach of the embargo against Myanmar by re-export of Dutch defence technology from Thales through the Indian company Bharat Electronics (BEL). Defence company Thales responded immediately by proving that it had explained to BEL its objection to the delivery, as this would breach the EU arms embargo against that country. Based on information from an Indian defence website however, we know that military radar technology originating in the Netherlands is still exported to Myanmar despite an European Union embargo on arms, munitions and military equipment, which is including all military technology and will be in force at least until 30 April 2016.
It is high time to clarify how military equipment, built on a Thales Nederland license, can be sold to embargoed Myanmar. Thales is extending its relations with India and more navy ships with of the same kind of technology will be built. How is arms export regulations applied to re-export of Dutch technology on Indian built ships and what is the authority of the Dutch government?
The military technology in case are systems from Indian defence company Bharat Electronics, meant for six to eight Aung Zeya-class/Kyan Sittha-class guided weapon frigates which Myanmar is building domestically with Chinese help. India is delivering also other technology for these vessels. The ships cost approximately € 175 million. With Chinese help Myanmar is quickly developing a blue water navy, a navy with the potential to operate outside its own coastal waters.
The frigates are fitted with a range of weapons and weapon systems including radar produced by Indian firm Bharat Electronics (BEL), the so-called RAWL02 Mk III military early warning air radar. However Thales itself informed BEL March 2013 that it estimated the chance for the grant of an export license – of the deliverance of this radar built on a license of Thales Nederland – below twenty per cent, even when the EU arms embargo would be lifted. Thales warned BEL not to deliver and thus prevented the sale of this state-of-the-art radar to Myanmar.
Shortly after this however, Scoop.it reported that: “(frigate) Aung Zeya (pennant number F11), is fitted with what appears to be an older variant of the RAWL.” In some sources this radar is still wrongly identified as the 3rd generation radar.
So, Bharat did sell radars to Myanmar. Not the ones Thales told them not to deliver, but an older version of the same radar, the RAWL02mkII instead of RAWL02mkIII. Expert sources which have been consulted by Stop Wapenhandel confirmed that this version is based on an ealier version of the LW-series. The mkIII version is based on the LW08, a long range radar of the 3rd generation and produced on a 100% license, according to a Thales email received June 26, 2015, and several are delivered to India. The major military handbooks underwrite the Dutch origin of the mkII variant. World Naval Weapon Systems (5th edition, p. 240) of the Naval Institute – independent but close to the US Navy – e.g. makes clear the majority of BEL’s radar systems originates at Thales (Hollandse Signaal Apparaten, HSA). Thales confirmed in the email of June 26, 2015, that the radar delivered to Myanmar is based on LW04 technology of Thales Nederland. The LW-04 is the first one of the second generation long range air surveillance radars produced by Thales. In 1969 a license was provided by HSA to BEL to build the radar in India. BEL developed the radar into the RAWL02 MK IIAP/N-112110340676. This is advertised by BEL for its salient features and still in use by India as can be concluded by a manual for naval officers. Thales however states in an email of June 30, it is sixty years old and no new parts where deliverd. Although this is an old system, even the previous 1st generation LW03 radar system is still in use. There is also other HSA naval technology from that time presently equiping navies around the world, from Spain to Thailand and from Finland to Egypt or Argentine. It is not new, but also far from obsolete.
Moreover, military deliverances are prohibited by the embargo, new or old. And very clearly this is military technology. The RAWL02mkII is designed for use onboard large and medium naval ships for long range air warning and target detection. “He who sees the most, and sees it before anyone else does, has the advantage,” as Thales itself describes the use of the LW03. It is one of many projects between BEL and Thales Nederland (and its predecessors Hollandse Signaal Apparaten (HSA) and Thomson CSF). Bharat Electronics was largely set up by Signal, according to Stuart Slade, annalist on radar in military magazine Naval Forces. Thales itself states on this cooperation: “In the past, BEL built under license Flycatcher Mk1 Thales systems and naval radars LW04, DA08 and ZW06 and the system ground Reporter.”
The latest major development is a joint venture between the two companies, dedicated to the design, development, marketing, supply and support of civilian and defence radars for the Indian and global markets. That is exactly what is happening in the Myanmar deal.
Until recently, there has been a buzz about lifting of the arms embargo against Myanmar, because the position of opposition leader Aung Suu Kyi has been normalised and political reforms in Myanmar improved democratic rule. But this year the situation has been deteriorated fast. The fight against the Rohingya population in the west of Myanmar is the best documented example of erupting violence in the country, but there are also ongoing clashes between the Buddhist and Muslim populations. “The growing violence against the Muslim population is a tragic reminder that Myanmar is still far from fully relinquishing the problems stemming from decades of military rule,” states journalist Harrison Akins at the website of Al Jazeera. Because of the fighting, many Rohingya are fleeing the country. In the North, fighting between the army and ethnic Han Chinese forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee from the border region. An overview of armed conflict in Myanmar is outside the scope of this blog, but the picture is black. In June Indian commandos crossed over the border into Myanmar to strike separatist bases in retaliation against an ambush in Indian Manipur state early this month. The elections in June were won by the military.
In December 2014, Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Koenders replied (see Parliament minutes, in Dutch) to questions by MP Van Dijk (SP) that no Thales technology has been used for the deliverance to Myanmar. According to the minister, anything delivered is developed by India itself. But he offered to look in further detail into the question. Unfortunately so far no MP used this offer to proceed with investigation into the role of Dutch technology in the Indian export to Myanmar.
MB July 2015