Navy sticks its head in the sand while evaluating Scorpene “worst case scenario” - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 27 August 2016

Navy sticks its head in the sand while evaluating Scorpene “worst case scenario”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Aug 16

An important section of the Indian Navy headquarters in New Delhi has changed its biorhythm to Melbourne time, monitoring The Australian newspaper as it publishes leaked documents containing the operational secrets of India’s new Scorpene submarines.

As The Australian incrementally publishes tranches from the 22,400 pages of sensitive documents that it indicates were leaked from French shipbuilder, DCNS, naval planners in Delhi scour them in real time for information that might make India’s Scorpene submarine fleet sitting ducks in combat.

The newspaper is redacting the documents it publishes, blacking out data it deems particularly sensitive. Indian officials, including Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Friday, say they are catering for a “best case scenario”, and “worst case scenario”. The latter encompasses the possibility that the full version of the documents have fallen into hostile hands, and six Scorpene submarines that will join the navy’s fleet by 2019 have been operationally compromised.

A “high-level committee” has been established in the defence ministry to evaluate the extent of the damage.

Surprisingly, defence ministry sources say DCNS has not yet responded to an Indian query about how, when and to what extent Scorpene operational data has been compromised. With DCNS silent, the navy is comparing the leaked trove of documents, as they are published in The Australian, with the documents in India.

Yet, the defence ministry is displaying remarkable tolerance of the leaks from DCNS, despite those being apparent violations of non-disclosure clauses that form a part of the Scorpene contract.

“We cannot say for sure whether DCNS has violated a non-disclosure clause. What happens if the information was stolen, or hacked from DCNS networks?” argues a MoD official.

Nor is the defence ministry willing to comment on whether this leak will affect DCNS’s chances of bagging an order for additional Scorpenes, beyond the six already contracted under Project 75. Officials say DCNS even remains eligible for Project 75-I --- India’s proposed purchase of six conventional submarines with air-independent propulsion (AIP).

“We are evaluating the situation as information is released”, says an official.

Ministry officials remain perplexingly sanguine about what analysts world-wide regard as an extremely worrying leak of data relating to operational capability --- including electromagnetic frequencies for intelligence gathering, details of the Scorpene’s sonar system, including the frequency of its various arrays and approximate acoustic signature, including that of its propeller. Much of the compromised data is not yet publicly known, since The Australian has published only a tiny portion of the documents it claims to have.

“A submarine is a highly customized weapon system. The navy has selected the equipment for the Indian Scorpene; in fact, some of the weapon systems have not yet been chosen. The 5-6 year-old data that has been leaked relates to a generic version of the Scorpene, perhaps the Chilean or Malaysian submarine, not to the customized Indian vessel”, explains one official.

The Indian Navy has arrived at this conclusion after reviewing just 13 published pages out of the 22,400 pages that The Australian claims it has reviewed.

Says another official, downplaying the leak: “Vendors like DCNS freely supply generic information to any prospective customer. It is like a Maruti car dealer, who will supply details of a car to any customer who requests it.”

Asked why the leaked documents bear the Indian Navy logo, are translated from French into English, and have each page stamped with the logo “Restricted Scorpene India”; defence ministry officials explain that could be because DCNS, and other French vendors like Thales, had customized the documents for India.

That, however, would indicate that the leaked documents related to the customized Indian version of the Scorpene.

On the plus side, New Delhi’s years of delay in choosing weapon systems for the Scorpene might have worked to the navy’s advantage. The long-range torpedo, a submarine’s primary weapon, has not yet been selected --- partly because the vendor chosen earlier was WASS, a subsidiary of the sanctioned Finmeccanica group.

Other systems, like electronic warfare equipment and sonar, may have been saved from exposure because they have been substantially indigenized. The French vendors, DCNS and Thales, are required to merely provide plug-in slots that will house the secret Indian equipment. 


  1. What are you trying to prove ? What do you want navy to do ; cancel the contract or list out all corrective steps in public ?
    This issue will also be handled in the parliament, the parliamentary defence committees and am sure where necessary navy will take suitable action.
    Only an idiot will annouce in public which of 22000 pages are critical.

  2. This is unacceptable by any standards and ask for atleast half refund which DCNS would not give and go for arbitration court. Indians security is breeches.

  3. The worse case scenario is that our billion dollar sub has just been converted to a Maruti-800..

    The French have a lot to answer for...

  4. Quote "information that might make India’s Scorpene submarine fleet sitting ducks in combat" .. well what about peace time? We all know that subs are tools for effectively probing of enemy defences and gathering intelligence even during peace time.

    With critical frequencies/ and approx acoustic signature of its sensors and propellers compromised, it makes finding this sub that much easier.

    I am waiting for PLAN and PN to jointly tweet "good morning and welcome" each time this sub leaves its home port..

  5. Both Navy and DCNS know their the data itself is categorised as "restricted" and not "classified" shows it to be more of commercial info and moreover indian scorpene are yet to begin sea trials to ascertain various parameters. This information is shared often by manufacturers in RFIs..lastly GOI needs DCNS/french govt support for building our next gen SSNs.So it is right to assess the damage if any before jumping to any conclusions

  6. My understanding is that the Indian scorpenes are more like assembled PCs where we an choose the components that go into it.In that sense the damage from the leaks can be mitigated

  7. None of those 22000 pages are critical. The writer knows this too well but deliberately sensationalising. This is why the files are termed RESTRICTED not TOP SECRET. Nothing in those pages pertain to Indian Scorpene's operational secrets as these have not been formalised yet. All this is a commercial detailed features much like the specs sheet you get from a car manufacturer only more comprehensive for a serious buyer. DCNS is silent because it knows how dumb the whole saga is especially the fact it went to Australia! If this leak was true and compromised Indian security then India ought to junk all the Kilo class subs as China uses them too and SU-30 should be junked as well because China uses them meaning Pakistan should have all the operational data! That tells you how wicked this business is - ramping up misinformation in the name of patriotism!

  8. The subs are not in operational but building phase and weapons are probably not decided yet.

  9. Bandalbazz next your turn after NDTV


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