Officers of the Indian Navy's submarine directorate went into a huddle, on the night of August 23, after they received calls from Admiral Sunil Lanba's office. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was also up. The last time they burnt the midnight oil was when explosions rocked the submarine INS Sindhurakshak inside the naval harbour in Mumbai, on August 14, 2013, killing all 18 on board.
This time round, explosiveness of another kind kept them awake: more than 22,400 pages relating to the Indian Navy's six Scorpene submarines under construction had been leaked by a retired French Navy captain, who was working as a subcontractor for DCNS―the French government-owned submarine building firm. The documents, which were marked as 'restricted', were about the combat capabilities of the submarines. The first of the submarines, Kalvari, is scheduled to be commissioned by the end of the year.
India had signed the contract for the submarines in 2005, for Rs 18,000 crore, and the first of them was supposed to be inducted by 2011. Thanks to delays, the cost has gone up by Rs 5,000 crore.
The leaked DCNS data has complete information about the stealth capabilities of the six submarines, including the frequencies at which they gather intelligence, the noise levels they touch while operating and the depths at which they operate. As per the information available with the ministry, the leaked data also has information about places in the boat where submariners can speak safely to avoid detection by the enemy, when operating in high seas. “The leaked data also supposedly discloses the most important aspect of the vessel―its torpedo launch and the combat system,” said Navy sources.
According to a senior officer, the French firm has been asked to submit a detailed report on the data theft, how it was stolen and the people involved in it. As per preliminary reports received by the ministry, the leakage took place in 2011, when Indian and French officials compiled the data on the technical specifications. The data was stored by the firm at its facility in France and is believed to have been stolen by the officer, who then sold it to a competitor of DCNS while they were bidding for submarine contracts in Malaysia and Vietnam. Subsequently, the data was passed on to another party, but it is still unclear how many people currently possess it.
“The leaked papers are with The Australian newspaper, in Australia, where the French firm has recently bagged a deal. At this moment, it seems to be a case of business rivalry rather than espionage,” a senior Navy officer told THE WEEK.
Retired Rear Admiral Raja Menon, who was a submariner, did not attach much importance to the leak. “The documents may have a lot of technical details and contractual details, but a submarine is all about location. In any case, the technicalities can change during building,” he said. Strategic expert Uday Bhaskar, who was a commodore, said documents classified as 'restricted' could be made available even to lay people for tender purposes.
Whether Pakistan or China would be able to make any use of the data leakage would be known only after the Navy assesses the damage.
The big leak
* The Australian reportedly received 22,439 pages of the documents
* 4,457 pages on underwater sensors
* 4,209 pages on above-water sensors
* 4,301 pages on combat management system
* 493 pages on torpedo launch system
* 6,841 pages on communication systems
* 2,138 pages on navigation systems