The recent furore over the leak of classified information relating to the Indian Navy’s Scorpene submarines, manufactured by the French company DCNS, is still going strong, with any new developments yet to be reported.
Although the Indian Navy is withholding comments with regards to the extent of information breach sustained, awaiting the findings of its own detailed investigation into the matter, analysts across the nation have stirred up their own riots with projections on what the implication of the said leak will be. Understandably, the implications of this breach are catastrophic for the national security of the nation. There are also a few other factors at play here.
Submarines are strategic assets in any nation’s defence armoury, and operate on a stealth-centric principle. Take that cover of stealth away, and these subs will stick out like sore thumbs, painted targets for their adversaries, and offer no sizeable firepower or deterrence. The dark depths of the oceans help these vessels to carry-out their mandates, undetected. However, if the enemy is made aware of the specific frequency on which the submarine operates, gathers intelligence, and navigates through the high seas, then the entire exercise is moot.
For submarines, be it diesel-run or SSBNs, maintaining the secrecy of their noise profiles is of paramount importance. It is critical to the intended functioning of such vessels. If the Scorpene leaks actually include crucial information regarding the vessel’s radiated noise parameters, then the Indian Navy has on its hands a group of vessels which may never leave the dock. Of course refitting to alter the original frequencies is an option, although by no means a cheap or practical one.
However, even more worrisome than the potential additional expense, will be the fact that India’s maritime and strategic theatre domination ambitions have been dealt an irreversible blow. The Kalavari Class was designed and expected to be at the forefront of India’s maritime security projections, leading mandates in the crucial Indian Ocean region. The number of boats at New Delhi’s disposal has already fallen from 19 in 2005, to 14 presently (the lowest in 30 years), which include an ageing Akula class vessel borrowed from the Russians, and an indigenously built Arihant SSBN, which is out on sea trials.
By contrast, Beijing operates close to 50 vessels, most of them in the littoral vicinity of India. Even Pakistan operates an aged, but sophisticated trio of French Agosta vessels. If the Scorpene vessels are indeed compromised, then India’s maritime ambitions will suffer a massive setback, and New Delhi can give up its hopes of ever being an actual ‘Blue Water’ naval power.
For New Delhi, the biggest blow will undoubtedly be to Narendra Modi’s ‘Make In India’ programme.The ambitious venture, which aims to build a domestic industrial complex for weapon systems, amongst other things, presently suffers from an inherent lack of technological prowess and maturity. To overcome this, the government opened up perviously restricted sectors to increased FDI, hoping to rope in big multinationals which would be willing to manufacture domestically, and also to transfer technology.
If the word out on the block is to be believed, DCNS bagged this multi-billion dollar project because it was one of the first firms to agreed to all of these terms. Therefore, should the government even contemplate penalising the French corporation, it will set a bad precedence for the Make In India program. New Delhi cannot afford that right now.
Irrespective of the outcome of the Navy’s investigation, this incident is going to spur the armed forces into action, developing better mechanisms to deal with international procurement of its equipment, and its due diligence. Given the number of corrupt deals the Indian government has previously been associated with, including the infamous Bofors scandal, and the AgustaWestland scam, this would be a welcome first step. Also, ironic as it may be, this incident should also serve to give a much needed push to the Make In India program, accelerating the competence to entirely forgo external manufacturers, and trust our own domestic industries to service the requirements of the nation.