New Delhi/Melbourne: More than 22,000 pages of top secret data on the capabilities of six highly advanced submarines being built for the Indian Navy in Mumbai in collaboration with a French company have been leaked, raising alarm bells today in the security establishment.
The combat capability of the scorpene submarines being built at Mazagon dock at a cost of USD 3.5 billion by French shipbuilder DCNS, went public when an Australian newspaper, “The Australian”, put the details on the website.
Reacting with alacrity to the development, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who learnt about the leak at midnight, ordered Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lamba to go into the ‘entire issue”. A report is also being sought from DCNS. “What I understand is there is a hacking. So we will find out all this,” Parrikar told reporters in Delhi.
Commodore Uday Bhaskar (Retd), Director of Society of Policy Studies, said, “We have to first establish the veracity of the documents and see if it pertains to India’s Scorpene submarines since DCNS supplies subs to other countries too. “If it is found so, then it definitely compromises the Indian platform. This is so because the leakage of so much technical details compromises the submarines capability to stay undetected.”
Rear Admiral Raja Menon (Retd), a submariner who once headed naval operations, said not much details have emerged about the nature of leak. “A lot of volume is there but that does not mean anything. But I gather from the naval headquarters that the leaked data does not compromise our submarines.”
“However, breach of security of data should not have happened. The loss of data is a serious issue. From the national security point of view, we can take assurance from the fact that the actual capability of the submarine has not been compromised”.
Navy sources said the leak of data “was a matter of serious concern” but added that the document was dated and the Indian submarine had undergone “many changes” from the initial design the details of which have been leaked.
The details leaked included what frequencies the submarines gather intelligence at, what levels of noise they make at various speeds and their diving depths, range and endurance – all sensitive information that is highly classified, the Australian said.
It said that ‘Marked “Restricted Scorpene India”, the DCNS documents detail the most sensitive combat capabilities of India’s submarine fleet and would provide an intelligence bonanza if obtained by India’s strategic rivals, such as Pakistan or China.’
The data tells 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, the newspaper said.
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.
The data, accessed by the paper, includes 4457 pages on the submarine’s underwater sensors, 4209 pages on its above-water sensors, 4301 pages on its combat management system, 493 pages on its torpedo launch system and specifications, 6841 pages on the sub’s communications system and 2138 on its navigation systems.
“I have asked the Navy chief to study the entire issue about what has been leaked, what is there about us and to what extent. It came to my knowledge at about 12 midnight. What I understand is there is a hacking. So we will find out all this,” Parrikar said.
The Defence Minister said he does not suspect the leak to be 100 per cent since a lot of final integration lies with India. He said a clear picture will emerge in a couple of days.
In a statement, the Navy said, “A case of suspected leak of documents related to Scorpene submarines has been reported by a foreign media house.”
“The available information is being examined at Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) and an analysis is being carried out by the concerned specialists.”
“It appears that the source of leak is from overseas and not in India.” Parrikar also met the naval top brass to discuss the leak episode.
Congress leader A K Antony, a former Defence Minister, said the leak is a matter of “very very serious concern” to the country. “It affects the security of the country. Government must immediately order a high level enquiry, find out the truth after that we can consider future course of action. Don’t waste time immediately find out the truth,” he said.
DCNS was quoted as having said it was aware of the report in the Australian daily and that “national security authorities” had launched an inquiry into the matter, without giving details. “This inquiry will determine the precise nature of the documents which have been leaked, the potential damage to our customers as well as those responsible.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sought to play down the impact of the leak, saying in Canberra that while it was “of concern”, the Scorpene was a different model to the subs Australia is buying.
“The submarine we are building or will be building with the French is called the Barracuda, quite, completely different submarine to the Scorpene they are building for India,” he told Channel Seven.
The daily said the data was thought to have been removed from France in 2011 by a former French naval officer who at the time was a subcontractor for DCNS.
The data is believed to have passed through firms in Southeast Asia before eventually being mailed to a company in Australia, the newspaper said.