16 Agustus 2010
Barrett 2050 radio (photo : barrettcommunications)
Radios Aiding Burma Army
BURMA'S army has evaded Australian government sanctions to obtain radio sets from a Perth manufacturer that allow it to scramble its communications, gaining a new advantage in its wars against domestic rebels and dissidents.
Prestigious British defence journal Jane's Intelligence Review reports that Perth-based Barrett Communications has been selling its radio sets directly in response to tenders by Burma's Ministry of Defence, contradicting suggestions by the company it was selling the radios to civilian agencies of the Burmese government.
When the military's use of the radios was first reported in January, Barrett managing director Phil Bradshaw insisted the radios were used for general communications and were not of a kind ''for military use''.
The company told Jane's that any Barrett 2050 radios sold to Burma did not include the frequency-hopping option that makes monitoring all but impossible and which would contravene Australian export controls on sensitive military technology, including signals encryption, in place since 1991.
Mr Bradshaw is quoted as saying the frequency-hopping option could only be installed at the company's factory by authorised staff.
The Defence Department in Canberra backed this up. ''This could not be done in-country [by the customer]'', the department told the journal.
But an industry source familiar with Barrett radios has said the processor and software that hops messages across 500 frequencies is built into every Barrett 2050. This and other extra functions could be enabled by input of a random nine or 10-digit code generated by a computer at Barrett's office and matched to the serial number.
''It wouldn't be impossible for an experienced department, especially in the military, to figure out a way to bypass it,'' the source said. ''If frequency hopping required an extra part or key to unlock, then it would be far more secure to send overseas. However, since it's already built in, it's just a matter of cracking that code.''
Jane's writers Samuel Blythe and Desmond Ball said the Barrett 2050, costing about $3300 a set, was coming into growing use by the Burmese army for communications between its headquarters and divisional commands.