Submarines: A Serious Leak In The Scorpene


September 6, 2016: India's effort to build six French Scorpene submarines under license, already at least seven years behind schedule, may be delayed even longer because French intelligence discovered that in 2011 large quantities of technical data on construction and operation of the Scorpene was stolen. The thief was apparently an employee of a sub-contractor and the French discovered the leak after they ran down reports of classified Scorpene data for sale. At this point it is unclear how much the stolen data impacts the six Indian Scorpenes. That’s because the French manufacturer (DCNS) and French intelligence are trying to find out exactly what got stolen and which versions of Scorpene are hurt and to what extent. The leaks appeared to involved details of how quiet Scorpene was and what operational, electronic and hardware contributed to that.

The Indian Scorpene contract was finally (after several years of delays) signed in 2005. After that corruption, politics and mismanagement have so far increased the cost of the $4 billion project by 25 percent (to $834 million per sub). Originally the first Scorpene was to enter service in 2012 with one each year after that. That schedule is subject to change and probably will, for the worse. In contrast Malaysia ordered two Scorpenes in 2002. These were built in Spain and France and delivered seven years later.

It’s not just the government procurement bureaucrats. There also turned out to be poor management by the Indian firms building the Scorpenes as well as locally made components. Building the subs in India is very important because it will leave India with thousands of workers and specialists experienced in building modern submarines. India insists that some of that equipment be manufactured in India, and that introduces even more complications and delays. Indian firms have a spotty track record in this area. But it appears that all this will be wasted because the defense procurement bureaucrats seem to have learned nothing. These officials already caused numerous delays and cost overruns during negotiations to build these diesel-electric submarines. The bureaucrats mismanaged this deal continually. On the plus side (sort of) Indian made components of foreign military equipment are not always up to spec. That sometimes causes problems and it could easily impact how quiet a submarine operated.

The first Scorpene was to be built in France, with the other five built in India. While some problems were expected (India has been doing license manufacturing of complex weapons for decades), the defense ministry procurement bureaucrats never ceased to amaze when it came to delaying work or just getting in the way.

The Scorpenes are similar to the Agosta 90B subs (also French) that Pakistan recently bought. The first of the Agostas was built in France, but the other two were built in Pakistan. The Scorpenes purchase was seen as a response to the Pakistani Agostas. The Scorpene are a more recent design, the result of cooperation between French and Spanish sub builders. The Agosta is a 1,500 ton (surface displacement) diesel-electric sub with a 36 man crew and four 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes (with 20 torpedoes and/or anti-ship missiles carried). The Scorpene is a little heavier (1,700 tons), has a smaller crew (32), and is a little faster. It has six 533mm torpedo tubes and carries 18 torpedoes and/or missiles. Both models can be equipped with an AIP (air independent propulsion) system. This enables the sub to stay under longer, thus making the sub harder to find. AIP allows the sub to travel under water for more than a week, at low speed (5-10 kilometers an hour). Two of the Indian Scorpenes are to have Indian made AIP installed. More details may become public if some of the stolen documents show up on Wikileaks or some other part of the visible Internet.


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