How much our security has been compromised by the leak of thousands of pages of confidential documents related to the Scorpene submarines, under production in Mazagon Dock Ltd., must be seriously investigated. This must be done in a manner that is free from bureaucratic compromise or turf-protective tactics. The leak came to light when The Australian newspaper claimed it had accessed 22,400 pages of documents detailing technical specifications of the 1,500-tonne conventional diesel-electric submarine. The documents contain details of combat and stealth capabilities, such as the frequencies at which they would gather intelligence and their noise levels at various speeds. Information on diving depths, range and endurance are also in the documents, suspected to have been taken out of DCNS, the French company that designed the submarines. According to The Australian , the documents contain magnetic, electromagnetic and infrared data as also specifications of the submarine’s torpedo launch system and combat system. Till the investigation is complete, it would be foolhardy to hazard the magnitude of the setback. But it may calm anxieties if there is a joint parliamentary probe, informed by a bipartisan spirit, to supplement an expert inquiry.
The leaked data pertain to the six Scorpene submarines that India bought from the French under a deal signed in 2005. Worth more than $3.75 billion at the time, it was India’s biggest military purchase, to provide a powerful, secretive underwater capability. The Scorpenes are to be the mainstay of India’s conventional sub-surface fleet in the next couple of decades. A submarine, by nature, is the most silent and potent weapon platform that a military has, the foremost being the SSBN, or a submarine that can launch ballistic nuclear missiles. It is in such SSBNs that countries place their second-strike capability — to fire a nuclear missile when under nuclear attack. In a battlefield with intrusive surveillance capabilities, conventional submarines can stay underwater for weeks, sneak close to the enemy shoreline, keep a quiet watch on ship movement, and carry out surprise attacks. Besides visual sighting, there are challenging and complex ways to look for a submarine, and to identify it as friend or foe. Most of these characteristics of Scorpene submarines seem to be part of the leaked documents. On the face of it, this would be documentation worth years of difficult and complex intelligence-gathering for adversaries. The initial response of the Ministry of Defence and the naval headquarters has been far too defensive. They must expedite the inquiry to also determine the source of the leak, and whether there has been a breach at the original equipment manufacturer’s end — and if so, fix liability.