A page from the leaked document, with sensitive data redacted by The Australian
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Aug 16
At midnight on Tuesday, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was woken up by a phone call to tell him that an Australian newspaper had just reported the leakage of key operational details of India’s newest submarines, the Scorpene.
A short while earlier, The Australian, a reputed Melbourne based daily, had broken the news that 22,400 pages of detailed documents relating to India’s Scorpene submarines that been leaked, apparently from the French shipbuilder, DCNS, which is the vendor for India’s six Scorpenes.
The report in The Australian says: “the DCNS documents detail the most sensitive combat capabilities of India’s new $US3 bn ($3.9bn) submarine fleet and would provide an intelligence bonanza if obtained by India’s strategic rivals, such as Pakistan or China.”
Each page of the leaked documents, which are available on The Australian’s website, is annotated in red with the stamp: “Restricted Scorpene India”.
Parrikar says, upon learning of the leak at midnight, he ordered the navy chief personally to inquire into what this meant for the security of the Scorpene fleet.
Asked whether a formal inquiry was under way, Parrikar replied: “Let him (the navy chief) first find out all the details. That is a sort of inquiry ---directly asking a navy chief to find out… and identify what is (the problem).”
“The available information is being examined at Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) and an analysis is being carried out by the concerned specialists”, said a defence ministry release on Wednesday morning.
Asked by Business Standard whether DCNS was in breach of confidentiality clauses with the Indian Navy, Parrikar stated: “What I understand is that there is a hacking (from DCNS). We will find out all those things… maybe in a couple of days we will be able to tell you”.
“It appears that the source of the leak is from overseas and not in India”, says the defence ministry release.
Warship industry sources say the timing of the leak is significant, with DCNS having won a $50 billion tender in April to design a new submarine fleet for Australia --- beating out German and Japanese rivals. There is speculation that rivals might be scuttling DCNS’s bid by painting it as unreliable and insecure.
Even so, the Indian Navy is seriously concerned about the leak. The Australian says the leaked data includes details of the Indian Scorpenes’ stealth capabilities, frequencies for intelligence gathering, the noise levels of the submarines at various speeds, the diving depths, range and endurance, magnetic, electro-magnetic and infra-red data, specifications of the torpedo system, propeller noise specifications and radiated noise levels when the submarine surfaces. This includes sensitive capabilities that an enemy would find useful in formulating tactics to combat the Scorpene.
The first of India’s six Scorpene submarines, a diesel-electric vessel named INS Kalvari, is currently undergoing sea trials off Mumbai. Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL), which is building six vessels with technology transferred from DCNS, expects the Kalvari will be commissioning into the navy by the year-end. Over the next three years, the remaining five Scorpenes will be commissioned and enter active service.
Parrikar says he hopes key Scorpene information might have been firewalled from the DCNS leaks by being confined to MDL, which is building the vessels in Mumbai.
Vice Admiral (Retired) Arun Kumar Singh, an Indian Navy submarine veteran, explains that much of the information in the 22,400 leaked pages would be commercial information relating to the Scorpene’s operating characteristics, that DCNS would legitimately share with any navy that expressed interest in buying the Scorpene.
“An operational disaster, however, would be the leakage of information relating to the sound that the Scorpene radiates into the water; or revealing the maximum depth to which the vessel can dive and fire weapons from”, says Singh.
A submarine’s “audio signature” is like a fingerprint. It is unique, and allows sensors like those in maritime reconnaissance aircraft to identify individual submarines, from a bank of “signatures” that navies maintain.
INS Kalvari has not yet done its “noise ranging trials”, which would pinpoint its audio fingerprint. Until these trials are completed, there is little possibility of it falling into the wrong hands.
Scorpene submarines are operated by Malaysia and Chile, while Brazil will also operate them from 2018. The Indian Scorpene is slightly longer, which would make its audio and magnetic signatures marginally different.
Interesting, the leak would also be carefully scrutinized by Pakistan, which has bought three submarines from DCNS --- the Agosta 90B class. There are several commonalities between the Scorpene and the Agosta 90B, although the latter incorporates the more sophisticated “air independent propulsion”.