Though the Ministry of Defence has said that it is studying the clauses of breach of contract to understand what action it can take in the crucial Scorpene project leak, experts have said India can barely do anything much in such a scenario. The ministry has also said that the leak will not affect any forthcoming deals and relations with France. The Navy says that it is not rattled by the leak and that it plans to induct the Scorpene submarine as soon as possible. A probe has already been ordered in the matter. The government has also written to the French government to inquire into the leak.
“We are currently studying the clauses of breach of contract with DCNS regarding India’s Scorpene submarine programme. We are seeing what the penalty clauses are, and what power we have to take punitive action. We can definitely take action as per the clauses in the contract. But we are currently studying it. It is work in progress,” a highly placed official of the MoD told The Sunday Guardian.
“The fact is that we are in dire need of it. We can barely do anything even in such severe cases of a leak. Can we dump the project? Of course, not. How can we deal with the situation? Just grin and bear it quietly,” a senior Indian Navy official said on the condition of anonymity.
Kalvari, the Tiger Shark, is the first of the Scorpene class submarines being built at India’s Mazagon Docks Limited. She is currently undergoing sea trials and is likely to be inducted by the end of this year. The sea trials of the next boat will get over nearly nine months after that. She will be inducted in 2017. In total, six Scorpene class submarines will be inducted in the Navy. The much-needed project has already been delayed for years.
Almost all the senior officials of the Indian Navy and the Ministry of Defence said that the leaked data did not have much significance in terms of the compromise of critical data. “The sea trials of the first Scorpene class submarine are underway. She has not even generated her signature yet. So there is no question of leakage of sensitive information,” a senior Navy official said.
“We are assuming that the worst has happened, and that everything has been leaked. But we are not rattled. The data which has been leaked is of not much significance,” an MoD official said. “The detailed assessment of potential impact is being undertaken by a high level committee constituted by the Ministry of Defence and the Indian Navy is taking all necessary steps to mitigate any probable security compromise,” a press release issued by the MoD stated.
WHY NOT HARMFUL
“Regarding any crucial defence projects like the Scorpene, information lies in the classified and the public domains simultaneously. When you create a complex platform like a submarine, information will be available in the industrial domain,” a retired senior official of the Indian Navy said. Information about the sonar signature, frequency of operation, other technical specifications like size, speed, noise have been leaked.
Explaining the implication of this, he said, “In reality, the submarine doesn’t transmit at all. It listens. Its sonar is in passive mode. It waits for a sound wave to arrive from a ship. Submarines don’t transmit on their sonars except when they want to launch a weapon. That is when they give one ping. This means they operate it for a fraction of a second in the vast ocean, just before the launch of a weapon. Putting this in perspective will help us understand things better.”
Officials said that knowing the sonar frequency of a submarine is part of fundamental physics, and that the professionals operating in the field will anyway be able to derive it. Submarines are located by using dunking sonars from helicopters or sono-buoys from aircraft. They are not detected by the ships because the signals of the ships themselves are picked up by the submarines due to the noise they make. When asked about the impact of the leakage of information on the frequency of submarines, he said, “Though the generic data may be known, what frequency the crew chooses to use at a particular point, depends on it. This leakage will not mean much during the operation of the sub.”
“Yes, generally, we do not give out information about the sonar system, frequency, noise speed. But that is because we just want to make it a bit difficult for others. Even when this information is shared, it does not make a huge impact,” he said.
“The kind of data that has been leaked is about the technical specifications of the boat. Such data is available even in the Jane’s booklets on particular ships and vessels. There is no great reason to worry about it,” said a Naval official in Mumbai.
Many other countries are using versions of the Scorpene submarine at present. They include Pakistan, Brazil, Chile and Malaysia. “If you talk to the designers, you will come to know that the designs don’t vary to a great extent,” an MoD official said.
WHAT IS CRITICAL, AND HAS NOT BEEN LEAKED?
What critical information any country needs to know is the submarine’s operational capability at a particular point. “The operational competence is the key determinant. Intelligence is knowing how competent the crew is. Countries hope and try that this information is not in open domain,” said the official.
‘RISKS WITH PRIVATE PARTICIPATION UNAVOIDABLE’
Gone are the days when governments used to ink deals with governments. With the increase in private participation across the world, security concerns are on the rise. In this case, DCNS is co-owned by the French government and a private entity. The French government owns two-thirds of the company.
“But the risk is unavoidable. We are buying different things from different people. We need more customisation now. We are not buying the entire thing from one government. So the days of Government-to-Government deals are gone,” the MoD official said.
‘FIX THE LEAK’
Everyone this correspondent talked to said the focus of the government should be to find the source of the leak and fix it. “This is the first time that such a leak has happened. And yes, there is no denying that it is very serious. The government needs to get to the bottom of it and fix the problem. They should find the source and take strict action, so this is not repeated ever again,” a retired senior naval official said on the condition of anonymity.
A senior MoD official said that there is a clause of nondisclosure in India’s contract with DCNS. “If that is violated, then there can be penal action. But for that India will need to prove that DCNS leaked the document. That might be an uphill task,” the official said.