Secret data leak hits French submarine maker: Report

An employee looks at the propeller of a Scorpene submarine at the industrial site of the naval defence company and shipbuilder DCNS in La Montagne, France on April 26, 2016.
An employee looks at the propeller of a Scorpene submarine at the industrial site of the naval defence company and shipbuilder DCNS in La Montagne, France on April 26, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - French defence contractor DCNS has been hit by a massive leak of secret data on its submarines that is likely to alarm India, Malaysia and Chile, which use the boats, The Australian newspaper reported on Wednesday (Aug 24).

The 22,400 leaked pages, which the daily said it had seen, detail the combat capability of the Scorpene-class DCNS submarine designed for the Indian navy, variants of which are used by Malaysia and Chile.

Brazil is also due to deploy the vessels from 2018.

Australia in April awarded DCNS a A$50 billion (S$51 billion) contract to design and build its next generation of submarines.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sought to play down the impact of the leak, saying in Canberra that while it was "of concern", the Scorpene was a different model to the subs Australia is buying.

"The submarine we are building or will be building with the French is called the Barracuda, quite, completely different submarine to the Scorpene they are building for India," he told Channel Seven.

"We have the highest security protections on all of our defence information, whether it is in partnership with other countries or entirely within Australia."

The leaked documents were marked "Restricted Scorpene India" and gave the combat capabilities of India's new submarine fleet, The Australian said.

They also included thousands of pages on the submarine sensors and thousands more on its communication and navigation systems as well as nearly 500 pages on the torpedo launch system alone.

Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar ordered a probe into the newspaper report, saying the documents could have been obtained through hacking.

"I have asked the navy chief to investigate the matter and find what has been leaked and how much of it is about us," Mr Parrikar told reporters in India.

"What I understand is there is a hacking," he said without giving details.

DCNS told AFP it was aware of the articles published in the Australian press and "national security authorities" had launched an inquiry into the matter, without giving details.

"This inquiry will determine the precise nature of the documents which have been leaked, the potential damage to our customers as well as those responsible."

The Australian said DCNS implied that the leak may have come from India rather than France.

The daily, however, said the data was thought to have been removed from France in 2011 by a former French naval officer who at the time was a subcontractor for DCNS.

The data is believed to have passed through firms in South-east Asia before eventually being mailed to a company in Australia, the newspaper said.

Australian Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said in a statement the leak "has no bearing on the Australian government's future submarine programme".

Mr Pyne said the programme "operates under stringent security requirements that govern the manner in which all information and technical data is managed now and into the future".

Australia awarded its submarine contract to DCNS but the secret combat system for the 12 Shortfin Barracudas is being supplied by the United States.

The submarines are a scaled-down conventionally powered version of France's 4,700-tonne Barracuda.