A cyber attack on Russian communication systems by anonymous hackers on early Saturday morning has compromised India's defence dealings with Russia and raised serious concerns about a possible major security breach.
Believed to have been carried out by an international group of anonymous hackers in retaliation to the last week's Russian invasion of Ukraine, the attack was detected by Indian technical intelligence agencies at about 4am on Saturday.
Most of the leaked documents relate to India's dealings with Russia for the purchase, overhaul and repair of front-line fighter aircraft like the Sukhoi-30 MKI and the MiG-29.
They include correspondence between Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), which makes the SU-30 and MiG-29 among other aircraft, and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) which manufactures the aircraft under license in India.
The offices of the defence ministry and national security advisor were alerted after the breach was detected, said an official familiar with the development.
However, Bangalore-based HAL spokesperson Gopal Sutar told HT he couldn't comment because they had not been informed till Saturday evening. Sutar, however, confirmed that some of the documents mentioned by HT to him seemed authentic.
Several letters written by UAC president M Pogosyan to HAL chairman RK Tyagi refer to a host of issues discussed during the 31st session of Indo-Russian Subgroup on Aviation (IRSA) held in New Delhi on February 20 this year. The IRSA is a sub-group of the Indo-Russian Inter Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation.
Some of these letters discuss the delays in finalising a contract between UAC and HAL for the RD-33 MK engines, which power the MiG-29 fighter aircraft.
In one of the leaked communications, Pogosyan writes to Tyagi that the "reason for the delay in delivery documentation" is due to "too much time" being spent on discussing "the formula escalation."
Obviously, this indicates that there are delays in the MiG-29 up gradation programme that is being negotiated between Russia and India. There is also a discussion on the AL-31 FP engines which power the SU-30 MKI and are particularly made for the Indian variant of the fighter aircraft.
Pogosyan writes that he "agree(s) this project causes great concern."
There is also a great deal of discussion in setting up Repair and Over Haul (ROH) facilities for the SU-30 MKI, which has been delayed due to indecision on the deputation of Russian specialists. Pogosyan admits that the delays are due to the disagreements between Russia and India on the "financial aspect of reimbursement rates for 2014".
However, he assures Tyagi that he is ready to continue with their commitments for the continuous overhaul of the SU-30 MKIs until the problem is resolved.
The other documents that have been leaked are details of visa applications for Russian specialists to India and Indian engineers from HAL travelling to Moscow. One of the documents has also been signed by Group Captain Ashutosh Lal, air attaché with the embassy of India in Ukraine on December 12, 2013.
Most of the other documents are Letters of Credit (LoC) that have been issued by the Avionics Division of HAL to their Russian counterparts so that critical orders can be processed. Some of these LoCs are to the tune of $ 1.6 million. Indian security experts are examining the leaked data to gauge the extent of the breach since most of this communication is considered secret.(A print version of this article appears in the Sunday edition of Hindustan Times)