The breach of sensitive data regarding the French Scorpene submarines being built in India has echoed in Hangzhou, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking up the issue during the “pull aside” with French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the G20 summit on Monday.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup, during his briefing on Monday afternoon confirmed that the Scorpene issue was raised during the Prime Minister’s brief meeting with the French President. However, he was non-committal when asked separately by The Hindu on whether the sensitive information seepage, reported by the Australian newspaper, also came up during Sunday’s talks between Prime Minister Modi and his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull. “I can neither confirm nor deny it,” he said. Official sources, however, had earlier told The Hindu that “it was inconceivable” that the Scorpene issue did not feature during the Prime Minister’s talks with Mr. Turnbull.
The Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL) is building six Scorpene submarines with technology transfer from DCNS of France. “The stunning leak, which runs to 22,400 pages and has been seen by The Australian, details the entire secret combat capability of the six Scorpene-class submarines that French shipbuilder DCNS has designed for the Indian Navy,” The Australian had reported last month.
On Monday, the Financial Review reported from Hangzhou that Mr. Turnbull has received assurances from Mr. Hollande regarding the submarines that Australia is set to acquire from DCNS of France in the aftermath of the data leakage of the Scorpene.
The daily said that Mr. Turnbull revealed on Monday that he had already raised the matter with Mr. Hollande on the sidelines of the G20 leaders' summit. It was formally raised when the pair had a bilateral meeting later in the day.
“We've had a brief discussion about it already and we will be addressing it in more detail,” Mr. Turnbull said before formal talks.
"Maintaining absolute maximum security, total security on information of this kind is critical. The leaks of the material relating to Scorpene submarine are very, very regrettable."
Mr. Turnbull said that while the Scorpene submarine was different to the 12 Barracuda subs DCNS would be building for Australia, he needed an assurance that the security breach would not happen again.
“There's a thorough investigation going on the French side to see how that happened — of course it's a different submarine to the one that we are going to build in collaboration with the French — but it is absolutely critical to continue to maintain the highest level of security,” he said.
When asked by The Hindu to comment on the grave security implications of the leak on Monday, the sources said that “a court injunction in Australia has already been obtained” that would prevent further seepage of information regarding the Scorpene submarines. The Australian has said that it would not be publishing additional confidential data on the Indian Scorpene Class submarines after the New South Wales Supreme Court imposed a temporary ban on further publication of the documents.
Reuters had earlier reported that Indian officials have pointed to a “non-disclosure of information” clause that was written into the 2005 contract at French insistence. Quoting a defence ministry official, it said that New Delhi could only invoke that clause if it was established that the data was leaked and not stolen.