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Scorpene Data Leak Confounds Experts

Though Government is putting up a brave face despite the leak of a large cache of the key data about the prime French Scorpene submarines, Experts are divided in their view

Amresh Srivastava
Publish Date: Sep 7 2016 2:53PM | Updated Date: Sep 7 2016 3:03PM

Scorpene Data Leak Confounds Experts

The vital information leak of Scorpene submarine is giving sleepless nights to not only the Indian Defence establishment but this is true about other countries too since they are dealing with the same French manufacturer DCNS of these war vessels.


The fear looms large over the big plans of Indian Navy, under “Project 75” that has the whopping cost of USD 3.5 billion. The first submarine built under this project, INS Kalvari has already begun sea trails since May this year and is likely to be inducted before the end of this year. 


The Defence Ministry has sought report from French shipbuilder DCNS about the vital data leak. The damage entailed by leaked documents of Indian Navy’s Scorpene Submarine Programme are to be probed by the Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba. He was asked by Manohar Parrikar to find and analyse the extent of damage because of the leak. The documents leaked, are marked "Restricted Scorpene India”. These are most sensitive in nature and contain the technical and stealth capabilities. A variant of the same French-designed Scorpene is also being used by the navies of Malaysia and Chile while Brazil is expected to get similar submarines by 2018. So the Snowden-sized leak has definitely set the alarm bells ringing at the highest level in these countries. The DCNS documents ¬detail the most sensitive combat capabilities of India’s new submarine fleet. And these may provide an intelligence bonanza if obtained by India’s strategic rivals like Pakistan or China. The Indian Navy initially said, “The available information is being examined at the Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) and an analysis is being carried out by the concerned specialists.”


But Admiral Lanba said on 29th August that this is a matter of serious concern. “We have viewed the leak of the Scorpene data very seriously and have asked DCNS to launch an urgent investigation. We have ourselves set up a high level committee to investigate this. Based on the report of the committee, we will see what mitigation measures need to be taken”. The committee will give its report by 20th September, as told by the Navy Chief.


The French ship-maker DCNS has moved the Supreme Court in Australia seeking an injunction against the newspaper The Australian from further publishing the leaked documents of India's Scorpene submarine project. 


The DCNS has also sought a court order to surrender documents leaked to it to the company and remove leaked contents from its website.


Now the bigger question that hovers amid the reports of the leak is as to what extent damage has been caused to the current Scorpene submarine programme of Indian Navy. In the beginning of the crisis, the Defence Minister downplayed the issue by saying that it is not a big worry but soon the Naval Chief’s statement did not rule out the damage. The inquiry is on by both Indian and French governments. Therefore, it may be a bit early to draw any conclusion right now but apparently the damage has been done. The vital security parameters are out. It is assumed that these data will be available to others also. So the ship may well be as good as compromised.


According to the Australia’s newspaper, the stunning leak of DCNS data, running in over to 22,400 pages are said to be related to the details of the secret stealth capabilities of six new Indian submarines, including frequencies they will use to gather intelligence, the levels of noise they make at various speeds and their diving depths, range and endurance. These are all sensitive information and supposed to be highly classified. These data tell the submarine crew where on the boat they can speak safely to avoid detection by the enemy. It also discloses magnetic, electromagnetic and infra-red data as well as the specifications of the submarine's torpedo launch system and the combat system. It details the speed and conditions needed for using the periscope, the noise specifications of the propeller and the radiated noise levels that occur when the submarine surfaces.



Experts Views: 


Opinion of experts is divided between those who consider the leaked data to be “sensitive” and potentially damaging to India’s Scorpene submarine force and others, who point out that the “Restricted” stamp carried on each page indicates the commercial nature of what seems to be marketing presentations and generic operating data released as a volley in some corporate war.


Defence expert Commodore C Uday Bhaskar (Retd.) said the reported leak of classified information related to Indian Navy’s Scorpene submarine project is a setback for the country’s shipbuilding programme and the Government must probe the issue thoroughly.” Few Experts feel that though the damage is done after this massive haemorrhaging of data related to the Indian Scorpene submarine but it is not up to that extent that the project should be abandoned on this count. The data revealed so far are the contracted frequencies assured by the manufacturer to buyer. This gives some kind of surety about minimum frequency in terms of hertz for the submarine. This is known as Radiated Noise Frequency or the Acoustic Signature of a submarine. In case of the India’s Scorpene submarines, the all six subs will have different acoustic signatures. Two submarines can not have the same frequency. This is mentioned by the manufactures at the time of bidding. When the actual noise ranging trails are done, the actual data on frequency is different and better than what is assured by the shipbuilders. These data after sea trail for noise ranging is most important and it must be kept secret. This also will change after refit or major repair of submarine over a period of time. Therefore, it is not that alarming as this was suspected to be initially. 


The present disclosure should not affect the ongoing project of Indian Navy. Vice Admiral Arun Kumar Singh (Retd) said that the Government should not overreact in the present crisis. “We have paid a lot of money, trained our people how to make submarine.  The Government should not overreact and blacklist the manufacture as it happened after the HDW leak when two submarines were built and then the project was abandoned in early 1990s after the construction of just two boats on account of allegations related to kickbacks in the deal, commented Admiral Singh”. “If we would not have abandoned the HWD project, we would have built 10 to 15 submarines by now and would have learnt how to make these submarines”, told Admiral Singh to Policy Pulse (See the full interview in the subsequent pages). 


Admiral Raja Menon (Retd) also thinks that the Government must find out how it happened?  But it should not overreact by taking extreme steps like blacklisting the company. “If transmitting frequency has been leaked, then it could be a matter of concern,” Admiral Menon remarked.


The inquiry has started amid the hope that the Ministry would find out how much the technical details are compromised? In future the Defence Ministry should add a cyber expert in the team which makes the request for the proposal and all details must be encrypted so that they are not hacked.


“Fool-proof protection from theft by hacking is imperative for all major national projects that need data protection.  This will hopefully be implemented rigorously,” Commodore Bhaskar warned.