France’s DCNS, which is making six Scorpene-class submarines for the Indian Navy, suffered a huge data leak – a news that has major ramifications for India’s defence capabilities and security. Scorpene submarines are all set to add hugely to Indian Navy’s stealth capabilities and will serve the force over the next few decades. What’s scary is, reports suggest that over 22,000 pages of documents pertaining to the combat details of these submarines have been leaked.
The leaked data is said to include very sensitive details of the submarine such as technical manuals and models of the boat’s antennae. It gives elaborate details of frequencies at which the submarine gathers intelligence, what levels of noise it makes at various speeds, range and endurance. The documents also disclose the magnetic, electromagnetic and infra-red data. The noise specifications of the propeller and the radiated noise levels that occur when the submarine surfaces, have also been leaked. The report of the the leak was published in The Australian. According to that report, the leak happened in France in 2011. What does this mean for India, and what is the way forward? FE Online asked defence analysts:
Security implications and impact on induction of Kalvari:
Abhijit Singh, a former naval officer, who heads the Maritime Policy Initiative at Observer Research Foundation sees the data leak as “very bad” news for India. “This appears prima facie to be very bad news for India. This has major implications for the defence preparedness of the Indian Navy. In the case of submarines, it is their stealth that sets them apart,” Abhijit Singh tells FE Online. “And, if reports are true that data on frequencies has been leaked, then it completely compromises and affects the submarine operations of the Indian Navy. This is very critical data that has been leaked. and will have ramifications for the freedom with which Indian submarines can move in high-seas,” he said. “The deployment of submarines will be affected since very vital equipment data has been leaked,” he added.
Singh feels that there is little doubt that till the Indian Navy is able to gauge the extent of the damage that this data leak will cause, the induction of Kalvari, will be postponed. Kalvari is the first of the Scorpene-class submarines for India, which is scheduled for induction later this year. “That would be the prudent thing to do. The Indian Navy may eventually decide that the equipment and frequencies need to be changed, in which case also, it is not a matter of a few months. This will be very expensive,” he explained. Singh also feels that the data leak raises questions on whether the Indian government will now consider DCNS for Project 75-I for submarines. “This data leak raises questions on whether DCNS can protect data effectively, so in that sense it may not be given the contract for more submarines,” he said.
The Indian Navy however, has said that the nature of the data leak doesn’t appear to be “too alarming”. It appears that the source of leak is from overseas and not in India. “A case of suspected leak of documents related to Scorpene submarines has been reported by a foreign media house. The available information is being examined at Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) and an analysis is being carried out by the concerned specialists. It appears that the source of leak is from overseas and not in India,” the Indian Navy has said.
But, Singh is of the view that the Navy’s take that the data leak is not too alarming seems to be an attempt to assuage fears on this front. “The point is that the Indian Navy cannot really comment on the issue till the inquiry report comes out,” he said.
Maroof Raza, Defence and Strategic Affairs expert is not too worried about this leak and instead wants India to focus on the long-term solution. “The Navy has already indicated that there is nothing too dramatic about this whole news. The Indian Navy is fairly advanced when it comes to advanced engineering capabilities. The data leak on some aspects will be a temporary setback, the Indian Navy, I am sure, will be able to come up with an even more enhanced version,” he told FE Online.
Where does the problem lie and what is the long-term solution?
Raza stresses on the need for effective ‘Make in India’. “The only long-term solution to data leak threats is Make In India. It is a long-term plan that will take 15 to 20 years, but the only way forward is to trust the domestic manufacturers and promote them,” Maroof Raza he said. According to Raza, “the real cause of the problem is that we don’t give our private sector a chance. We say that the defence sector data is too sensitive, but we are willing to take the risk of giving details to a foreign manufacturer.” “This manufacturer would also sell the same platform to other countries for a hefty money. This is a price that you pay for not manufacturing extensively in India,” he lamented.
Raza went on to say, “Such data leaks are very likely when you are buying platforms from foreign defence players. India follows the procedure where you buy the basic platform that the defence manufacturer is offering and then you modify it for your own needs, to make it far superior. Obviously adversaries and enemies would be looking for opportunities to understand your defence capabilities.”
Raza explained, “In India there is a triangle of bureaucracy, armed forces and public sector undertakings that are not on the same page. PSUs want control, they don’t want the private sector to flourish, they are full of nepotism and are less professional. Armed forces on their part do not have a long-term integrated plan. They are unable to perceive threats 15-20 years in advance. You have to understand potential threats in time to be able to make a weapon to counter them. Bureaucracy on its part is full of non-professional generalists. That is the base problem; all three of them, Armed forces, PSUs and bureaucracy need to be on the same page.” “Till that happens and till we do not move domestic defence production in the right direction, with this triangle working effectively, and the private sector being extensively involved, we will just keep thinking of Make In India, and will always be vulnerable to the impact of data leak,” he concluded.