Earlier this year, Asia Pacific watchers were on the edge of their seats as Australia debated whether to purchase submarines from Japan or another buyer. In the end, Japan lost out to DCNS—a major win for the French firm and a blow for Japan. But now, DCNS isn’t looking so good, the FT reports:
Tens of thousands of documents detailing the combat capability of France’s Scorpène-class submarine have been leaked, raising fears over the security of multibillion-dollar defence contracts, including with India and Australia.
Details of the capabilities of the six vessels being built for the Indian navy by DCNS, the defence contractor that is two-thirds owned by the French government, were published on Wednesday by The Australian newspaper, which reported that the data have passed through several hands.
The breach sparked immediate concerns in India that regional rivals China and Pakistan could have gained access to the trove of information on the capabilities of the submarine programme. The same class of vessel is also used by Malaysia, Chile and soon Brazil.
The leak also threatens the relationship between DCNS and the Australian government, which this year ordered 12 submarines in a A$50bn (US$38bn) deal, the largest defence contract won by a French company.
While the Japanese enjoy their moment of schadenfreude, defense officials are scrambling to figure out who the hackers were and exactly what information they received. As Hussein Abbas, a professor at UNSW Canberra put it, “Such a leak will open many policy and decision makers’ eyes to the reality of the cyber threat and the magnitude of the problem.”
In combat, knowing even the smallest detail about enemy capabilities can make the difference between victory and defeat. Retired Vice-Admiral A.K. Singh told The Wire, “I reckon this has saved the Chinese and Pakistanis 20-30 years of espionage.”
The big question now is whether the breach imperils the Aussie deal with DCNS. It seems unlikely that Canberra will rip up the contract and restart the bidding process, but we’ll be watching to see what happens.