Officials of the French defence ministry inquiring into the Scorpene submarine data leak to The Australian newspaper in August have alleged that the source of the leak was linked to German defence firm ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS).
French newspaper Le Monde, quoting multiple sources, said it was driven by competition between TKMS and French firm DCNS for export of submarines to various countries.
DCNS Chief Executive Officer Hervé Guillou believes that the leak case has not dented India’s confidence in the French company. “I went to the Indian authorities for reassurance. We formed a group working on the issue with them,” Guillou told Le Monde.
However, sources in the Ministry of Defence told The Indian Express that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had not met Guillou or any other official of DCNS in the last few weeks. Dismissing this as “a matter of corporate rivalry”, Ministry sources refused further comment on the matter.
The outcome of the French investigation gains significance as the German and French companies are vying for the Project 75-I programme of the Indian Navy. Under Project 75-I, the Ministry of Defence is supposed to identify a foreign company to construct six submarines under ‘Make in India’.
Project 75-I is a high priority project for the Ministry because of the poor state of the Navy’s submarine fleet. But Navy sources maintain that the contract for Project 75-I can only be awarded after the partnership model for choosing an Indian partner company is finalised by the Ministry.
On August 24, The Australian published online excerpts of 22,400 documents, related to the Scorpene submarine being made under Project-75 at Mazagon Docks Limited in Mumbai. The first of these submarines, INS Kalvari, is out for sea trials and all six submarines are scheduled to be inducted in the Navy by 2020.
The Australian handed over the data to the French company late August which found that the tranche covers, according to Guillou, “essentially commercial information, or related to training, technical documents with a maximum classification of ‘restricted’”.
“We analysed what had been published, and which could come from these documents. We could not find any type of information which was secret-defence, or classified,” Guillou was quoted as having said.
The media leaks occurred after a close contest for a $50-billion Australian programme for 12 submarines — the French company won against the German TKMS and a Japanese consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation.