Submarine data leak: Scorpene is hardly a stranger to controversies

Jugal R Purohit
Jugal R PurohitAug 24, 2016 | 22:45

Submarine data leak: Scorpene is hardly a stranger to controversies

The extent of data theft suffered by the Indian Navy is unclear. About one thing, however, there is no doubt - information which should never have moved beyond the Indian Navy has travelled.

The Australian, a news organisation claims 22,400 sensitive documents pertaining to the features of the Scorpene submarines being built in India by the French firm DCNS and its contractor ARMARIS, have been leaked.


The heavily secured details of the six submarines have been placed in the public domain. We do not know who all have perused these papers. 

While it may be a new low for the project, controversies have hardly let the Scorpenes breathe easy. 

Questions, in fact, were asked the day the project was conceived. In December 1981, the navy signed a deal to acquire four conventional submarines with the Federal Republic of Germany (then the pre-unification West Germany). This process itself had raised many eyebrows.

Anyway, India decided that the first two submarines would be made at the German firm's yard in Kiel, where an Indian team would observe and learn. These Indians were to return and help build the third and fourth submarine in Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), Mumbai.

Once that was achieved, it was envisaged that India would be able to build two more submarines entirely on her own by making incremental changes to the German design.

By 1987, the Indian Navy had received the submarines which it named INS Shishumar and INS Shankush. Before matters could shift to India, news broke of a "scandal" involving bribes allegedly paid for securing the deal.


Somehow, India managed to assemble the other two submarines, INS Shalki and INS Shankul in Mumbai. After May 1994, when the last submarine was commissioned, the hard-won assembly line at MDL's east yard was left to rot. Matters picked in 1997 when the government of the day approved the plan to build the fifth and sixth boat. 

A media note issued by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) on December 21, 2005 said this about what happened next:

"In 1997, the Government approved construction of two submarines at M/s MDL, Mumbai. Though the Request for Proposals were sent to four firms, viz, M/s Thomson CSF, France VSEL (UK), M/s Kockums (Sweden) and RVZ, Russia, only M/s Thomson CSF, France responded.... Price negotiations were held with M/s Thomson CSF, France. However, no contract could be signed due to reluctance of the French government to release missiles for the submarines and inadequate explanation of the cost of programme and logistic package. Thereafter, the Government decided to approve the proposal for the indigenous construction of six Scorpene submarines under Transfer of Technology." 

Scorpene submarine data leak is a cause for major national security concern.

Inexplicable as the turnaround may seem, what followed was a notch above. Reeling under the Kargil war, in July 1999, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved a plan to develop indigenous submarine building capability. Under this, India was to build 24 submarines and in the process emerge self-reliant.


And then, citing "techno-commercial analysis of the available options", the defence ministry awarded the contract to the French state-owned firm DCNS, which was to help India build six Scorpene submarines at a total cost of Rs 18,798 crore! 

Repeatedly, allegations of bribes being paid to middlemen have surfaced. Both houses of Parliament have seen several logjams over the "extra amount" being paid for the deal and the government of day defending itself. 

Mysteriously, while the NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee had finalised the Scorpene deal with a ministry of finance (MoF) approval in 2003, it did not sign it. The Congress-led UPA did so in 2005 after re-examining and achieving a "reduction in Rs 313 crore" in the deal. 

In the ensuing years, questions have been raised about the technology for Scorpene being unproven, quality of workmanship, intent of the DCNS, when equipment agreed to and paid for was not supplied leading to delays and what not. The first boat was to arrive by the end of 2012 and she still isn't ready. 

Notwithstanding all of this, the Scorpene remains, in the words of the Indian Navy, at "the core of submarine arm for the next two decades". Some see it as a sign of the force's confidence, some say it is desperation. 

On October 6, 2005, the day the Scorpene deal was signed, the then Indian Navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, said the contracts had received "repeated scrutiny at every level". He added, "In fact we were determined that in the interest of transparency and probity we would accept as much delay as was necessary". 

It has been a decade since the admiral said what he did. While the India has had to put up with delay, jury is still out if the desired transparency and probity has been achieved.

Last updated: August 26, 2016 | 11:29
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