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Indian subs more vulnerable after leak, UK  experts

india Updated: Aug 25, 2016 09:20 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times
Scorpene project

File photo of an employee looking at the propeller of a Scorpene submarine at the industrial site of the naval defence company and shipbuilder DCNS in La Montagne near Nantes, France.(Reuters)

The leak of sensitive data related to India’s Scorpene project makes the country’s submarines more vulnerable but since each vessel has a different “acoustic signature”, the impact may be less damaging, London-based experts say.

The most serious implication of the security breach was for the frequency signature details associated with the Scorpene-class submarines, Peter Roberts, senior research fellow for sea power and maritime studies at the Royal United Services Institute, told HT.

“The major risk, following this disclosure, is from the exposure of data related to propeller and radiated noise – as a result Indian submarines will be more vulnerable after the data breach,” he said.

India was on Wednesday scrambling to assess the damage caused by the leak of the suspected details of the combat capabilities of the submarine that is being built in collaboration with the French company DCNS. The leak was reported by The Australian newspaper a day earlier.

“However, (as the French company DCNS will explain), every submarine has a slightly different acoustic signature, and whilst the broad frequency characteristics of the Scorpene-class may now be known, the exact fingerprint of each platform will mitigate some of the operational implications,” Roberts said.

India has ordered six Scorpene submarines and the first of the vessels, being built at Mumbai’s Mazagon Dock, is expected to be delivered to the navy in early 2017.

Harsh Pant, a professor in the department of defence studies at King’s College, London, said the leak could do “real long-term damage” for India as the Scorpene was to be the main conventional submarine of the Indian fleet.

“India has an ageing submarine fleet and one of the most important challenges facing the Indian Navy at the moment is to replenish its submarine capability at a time when China is upending the balance of power in the Indian Ocean,” he said.

“With this leak, the Indian Navy will have to re-set its calculus in light of the Scorpene becoming more vulnerable and prepare anew for a challenge that is growing by the day. Given India’s dismal defence procurement system, this will set India back significantly.”

The implications of the data loss for the arms community were important in the short term but probably procedural in the medium to long term, Roberts said.

“DCNS will obviously have to make some reassurances to the Indian government, and possibly undertake some mitigation work – changing some key equipment to change the frequency signature of the submarines is the most likely course of action,” he said.

DCNS was likely to be hit the hardest as the Australian government, which recently let a large submarine contract to the French shipbuilder, would ask for assurance that their data would be sufficiently protected from prying Chinese eyes, Roberts said.

The leak would act as a black mark against DCNS in future biddings. “With more than 70 new submarines being ordered in Asia-Pacific over the next decade, such an edge might be significant and could see both the Germans and Swedish have stronger bids when more than purely financial costs are considered,” he said.