Scorpene leaks and the consequences there after


Regular Member
Jul 30, 2016
In an age of hacking and whistleblowers, the public disclosure of sensitive defence information can be just one keystroke away. This had been underlined by the sudden leakage of over 22,000 pages of technical specs for the Scorpene submarines being inducted by the Indian Navy. This has and will continue to happen. The question is what New Delhi should be doing to prevent and ameliorate such developments.

At present how this technical report became public is unclear. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar has spoken of “hacking”. Other reports speak of an ex-French navy officer stealing the report in 2011 and it being circulated, presumably for a price, among various governments and companies since.

Read | Indian submarines more vulnerable after leak, UK  experts

India should be concerned for the following reasons.

One, the contents of the report will undermine India’s maritime security. The six Scorpenes — one which began sea trials in May and the five others still under construction — were supposed to provide a cutting-edge to India’s ageing submarine fleet. Particularly damaging would be information on the submarines’ navigation and sonar systems as well as its acoustic profile. These tell an enemy how both to avoid being found by and how to find a Scorpene. And, in submarine warfare, the endgame begins with detection.

Two, it will put a hole in the country’s Indian Ocean strategy. Chinese submarine activity in the Indian Ocean has increased dramatically the past few years. They seem largely interested in collecting hydrological information, as this sort of data is essential for future and more permanent undersea naval activity — which presumably is Beijing’s ultimate goal. The Scorpene was supposed to be the Indian counter for the next two decades. This will now be in question. India may be required to retrofit more advanced sonar and navigation in the present hulls — adding to an already expensive $3.5 billion purchase.

Read | Scorpene submarine data leak: Indian and French authorities order probe

Three, the Scorpene incident should be just another reminder of India’s need to re-look at its own cyber security and defence production norms.

One vulnerability is the fact India continues to import pretty much all of its military needs — including combat rifles and specialised clothing. The multiplicity of players this introduces means the likelihood of leaks and hacks increases.

Two is that, despite the claims of the defence ministry and other government agencies, India remains a laggard in terms of securing its more sensitive systems. Cyber security remains a policy domain fragmented among over a dozen agencies. Recommendations for a cyber security command remain on paper. The Narendra Modi government has appointed a cyber security czar but he lacks the authority to enforce his decisions.

Read | All about Indian Navy’s crucial Scorpene submarines

It took a group of private United States and Canadian academics and programmers to inform New Delhi in 2010 that a China-based hacking group, Shadow Network, had broken into the systems of three Indian Air Force bases and an Assam-based mountain artillery brigade. It is an open secret that foreign intelligence agencies and defence firms are reluctant to share sensitive technology with India because they believe the computer systems of its State-owned defence companies are wholly compromised by the Chinese. It is not as if India does not have world-class cyber security capabilities — but these lie in its private companies and largely ignored by New Delhi.

The only silver lining in the Scorpene disclosures is that submarines everywhere are increasingly vulnerable. A number of studies have pointed that advances in acoustic tracking, satellite reconnaissance and new forms of detection — for example, using lasers and big data analysis — mean that the days when the watery depths veiled the movements of a submarine are almost at an end.

The Scorpene was already on a rising curve of vulnerability, but it would still be preferable that its top secret guidebook were kept in a vault.


Senior Member
Apr 13, 2013
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German Defence Firm Linked to Scorpene Data Leak: French Media

Officials of the French defense ministry inquiring into the Scorpene submarine data leak to The Australian newspaper in August have alleged that the source of the leak was linked to German defense firm ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS).

French newspaper Le Monde, quoting multiple sources, said it was driven by competition between TKMS and French firm DCNS for export of submarines to various countries.

DCNS Chief Executive Officer Hervé Guillou believes that the leak case has not dented India’s confidence in the French company. “I went to the Indian authorities for reassurance. We formed a group working on the issue with them,” Guillou told Le Monde.

However, sources in the Ministry of defense told The Indian Express that defense Minister Manohar Parrikar had not met Guillou or any other official of DCNS in the last few weeks. Dismissing this as “a matter of corporate rivalry”, Ministry sources refused further comment on the matter.

The outcome of the French investigation gains significance as the German and French companies are vying for the Project 75-I program of the Indian Navy. Under Project 75-I, the Ministry of defense is supposed to identify a foreign company to construct six submarines under ‘Make in India’.

Project 75-I is a high priority project for the Ministry because of the poor state of the Navy’s submarine fleet. But Navy sources maintain that the contract for Project 75-I can only be awarded after the partnership model for choosing an Indian partner company is finalized by the Ministry.

On August 24, The Australian published online excerpts of 22,400 documents, related to the Scorpene submarine being made under Project-75 at Mazagon Docks Limited in Mumbai. The first of these submarines, INS Kalvari, is out for sea trials and all six submarines are scheduled to be inducted in the Navy by 2020.

The Australian handed over the data to the French company late August which found that the tranche covers, according to Guillou, “essentially commercial information, or related to training, technical documents with a maximum classification of ‘restricted’”.

“We analysed what had been published, and which could come from these documents. We could not find any type of information which was secret-defense, or classified,” Guillou was quoted as having said.

The media leaks occurred after a close contest for a $50-billion Australian program for 12 submarines — the French company won against the German TKMS and a Japanese consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation.

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