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, ringing alarm bells on Wednesday in the security establishment.
The combat capability of the Scorpene submarines being built at Mazagon dock at a cost of $3.5 billion (over Rs 23,495 core) 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 detailed report is also being sought by the Indian government from DCNS.
"What I understand is there is a hacking. So we will find out all this," Parrikar told media persons in Delhi.
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 documentsdetail 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.'
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.
Terming the leak of classified documents as a "serious matter", DCNS, a French defence major, said in a statement that the issue is being thoroughly investigated by the French national authorities for defence security.
"This investigation will determine the exact nature of the leaked documents, the potential damages to DCNS customers as well as the responsibilities for this leakage," a statement by DCNS headquarters in Paris said.
DCNS had earlier implied that the leak might have occurred at India's end, rather than from France.
"Multiple and independent controls exist within DCNS to prevent unauthorised access to data and all data movements are encrypted and recorded. In the case of India, where a DCNS design is built by a local company, DCNS is the provider and not the controller of technical data," the company said.
The Australian has been told that the data on the Scorpene was written in France for India in 2011 and is suspected of being removed from France in that same year by a former French Navy officer who was at that time a DCNS subcontractor.
"The data is then believed to have been taken to a company in Southeast Asia, possibly to assist in a commercial venture for a regional navy. It was subsequently passed by a third party to a second company in the region before being sent on a data disk by regular mail to a company in Australia.
"It is unclear how widely the data has been shared in Asia or whether it has been obtained by foreign intelligence agencies," it said.
Defence analyst Commodore Uday Bhaskar (Retd), Director of Society of Policy Studies, said if the veracity of the documents is proved 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."
France says it will cooperate with India
France said it has taken "very seriously" the issue of leak of sensitive documents and would work with India very closely with transparency.
As the Scorpene data leak report broke out shaking the Indian defence establishment, French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler said here French authorities were trying to assess the extent, nature and sensitivity of information that may have been leaked.
"Well, I have seen the report in the press. What can I tell you is that the French authorities are taking the matter very very seriously and working very seriously with DCNS, the French ship building company," he told reporters at an event organised at Alliance Francaise in New Delhi.
"We (French authorities) are trying to asses the extent; the nature; the sensitivity of information that may have been leaked, and we will do work in this... in very very close cooperation (and) with full transparency with Indian authorities," Ziegler said.
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, it 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.
Scorpene submarine project leak "scandalous": Congress
Terming as "scandalous" the Scorpene submarine project leak, Congress demanded a complete security audit of the defence ministry by a sitting Supreme Court judge even as it accused Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar of launching an "operation cover-up".
The audit could be in the form of a commission of inquiry and should fix responsibility of the political executive, including that of the Defence Minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the party's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters.
Insisting that the inquiry should probe the defence minister and the defence ministry to see whether they had abdicated their responsibility, he said the leak has put a question mark on India's maritime security.
Dubbing it as the "biggest defence disaster" of recent time, he said it has jeopardised the sole initiative to build six Scorpene submarines in collaboration with French company DCNS by government-owned Mazagaon Dock Ship Builders Ltd at Mumbai.
"Despite the 'Himalayan blunder' that has deeply hurt India's defence preparedness, the Modi government/Defence Minister are indulging in 'operation cover-up' instead of fixing responsibility," he alleged.
Surjewala claimed that all concerned, including the defence minister and Indian Navy, are speaking in contradictory voices.
While Parrikar continues to describe the leaks as "hacking", the navy states that the "source of leaks is overseas and not in India", he said.
French Company DCNS has clearly hinted that leak may have taken place in India, he said.
With a coastline of 7517 kilometres to defend with merely 13 submarines and one nuclear submarine, the government appears to be living in denial, he said.
"It is in fact intriguing as to how 'clean chits' are being meted out without conducting a proper inquiry. For such an inquiry to be fair, it has to be headed by an independent neutral authority of the level of a sitting Supreme Court judge with officials from the armed forces, naval and Military Intelligence, IB or other specialised agencies as its
members," he said.
Surjewala contended that this is an "alarming" situation that requires a complete 'security audit' of Mazagaon Dock Ship Builders Limited as also of the Defence Ministry.