What is a Scorpene?

Here's an explainer on Scorpene and the submarine deal with DCNS.

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:59 pm IST

Published - August 25, 2016 05:59 pm IST

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar boarding a Scorpene submarine during its undocking in Mumbai on April 06, 2015. Photo: Vivek Bendre

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar boarding a Scorpene submarine during its undocking in Mumbai on April 06, 2015. Photo: Vivek Bendre

Scorpene is a conventional powered submarine weighing 1,500 tonnes and can go up to depths of 300m. It is built by DCNS of France.

What has it to do with India?

In October 2005, India had signed a USD 3.75 bn deal for six of submarines to be built by Mazgaon Dock Limited (MDL) in Mumbai with transfer of technology. Additional deals were signed with Thales and MBDA for systems and weapons.

What is the status of the deal?

After repeated delays over four years, the first submarine began sea trials in May this year and is expected to be commissioned into the Navy by October. The remaining five submarines are at various stages of construction and MDL has assured to hand over one submarine every nine months.

Why are submarines so important?

A submarine is the quietest military platform and extremely tough to detect. Their main cover is their ability to move stealthily under water and keep an eye on enemy movement of vessels.

Submarines are the most potent military platforms currently available even ahead of aircraft carriers which need a large entourage to protect it.

The fact that nations which possess nuclear weapons base their second strike capability (ability to strike back after being hit first by nuclear strike) on nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) underscores their importance.

What is stealth?

Every military platform has a footprint which shows up on radar by which is used by adversaries to track it. So it is extremely important to minimise the footprint to protect our military assets and retain the element of surprise in case of an offensive

For a submarine, stealth is the most important protection. Stealth is a relative concept. It can be increased relatively to varying levels by adopting several measures right from the platforms design to operational measures to reduce noise and vibrations to stay away from prowling radars and sonars.

How do submarines operate?

As Submarines operate under water they rely on sonar or sound waves for communication and detection. Each class of submarine operates over specific frequencies, their signature, and is highly guarded.

What is the leak all about?

The 22,400 pages of documents leaked are essentially the manufacturer’s, in this case DCNS, manual detailing the technical specifications of the submarine.

They detail the combat and stealth capabilities of the Scorpene, including what frequencies they gather intelligence at, what levels of noise they make at various speeds and their diving depths, range and endurance and so on. It also discloses magnetic, electromagnetic and infra-red data as well as specifications of the submarine’s torpedo launch system and the combat system.

So does it mean the submarines are compromised?

Not entirely but the fact that such information has been lacked is a concern in itself. Rival navies take years to collect such kind of information and this coming out in public domain is not a healthy sign.

While the manufacturer’s technical manual has come out in the public domain, the operational and tactical procedures are developed by the user, the Indian Navy, once the submarine is inducted. In addition as the submarines are still under construction small tweaking can be done to change their signatures, as a precautionary measure.

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