The leaking of more than 22,000 pages of documents pertaining to the six Scorpene submarines being made by Mazagon Docks Limited in Mumbai in cooperation with the French company DCNS is a matter of serious concern for the Indian Navy. The navy is still studying the documents posted by ‘The Australian’ newspaper on its website, and only then will it come to the conclusions about the real impact on the Project-75 submarine programme. Retired naval officials, who have gone through some of the documents, are divided about the setback caused to the programme. Certain technical and operational data in the leaked documents will be useful for India’s adversaries but it will not jeopardise these submarines as every submarine has a unique signature. Only the first of the six submarines has gone for sea trials so far, and even the Indian Navy thus does not today have their unique signatures which will be recorded after the trials are completed.
Moreover, the tactical profile and deployment of a submarine, while dependent on operational parameters, is the key factor in exploiting these submarines during operations. In that sense, while the leakage of so much data in the public domain is an avoidable embarrassment, it does not warrant cancelling the Project 75 construction programme. The remaining five submarines are at various stages of construction and it will not be possible to significantly alter their design at this stage. These submarines will hopefully get built and commissioned in the navy, on schedule, by 2020. The government should not dither from that goal, as India currently has only 13 conventional diesel submarines, that too of old vintage and uneven quality. China has 54 submarines, Pakistan is getting eight new submarines and India needs these six Scorpenes desperately. The other programme for submarine construction, Project 75(I), has not even been contracted and it will be a few years before the navy can hope to get any more submarines.
Perhaps more important than the question of what has been leaked is how it was leaked. Based on the evidence so far, it can be reasonably assumed that the source of the leak was DCNS, the French company. Corporate rivalry, brought upon by DCNS winning a $50 bn Australian contract for 12 submarines earlier this year, is seen as the most likely reason. The fact that one individual was able to access such a large trove of documents covering all the major sub-systems when most such organisations work on the “need to know” principle, needs to be enquired into by the French government. By completing the enquiry at the earliest, punishing the guilty and fixing the loopholes, France will be able to satisfy the concerns of a big defence partner like India. Any exercise limited only to damage control will do disservice to India’s national security.