PARIS – France will conduct an inquiry into a leak to Australian newspapers of "sensitive" technical information on the Scorpene attack submarine being built for India, naval shipbuilder DCNS said Aug. 23.

DCNS was responding to The Australian newspaper, which has reported on a leak of 22,400 pages of company data on the six Scorpene boats under construction for the Indian Navy.

"DCNS has been made aware of articles published in the Australian press related to the leakage of sensitive data about (the) Indian Scorpene," the company told Defense News.

"This serious matter is thoroughly investigated by the ...  French national authorities for defense security," DCNS said. "This investigation will determine the exact nature of the leaked documents, the potential damages to DCNS customers as well as the responsibilities for this leakage," the company said.

An unauthorized disclosure of DCNS documents, stamped "Restricted Scorpene India" and dated 2011, comes at a delicate time for the company, which is in exclusive talks with Australia for a contract to design and build the Shortfin Barracuda A1 diesel-electric submarine.

Australia picked DCNS after a competitive evaluation which attracted competing bids from Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems and a Japanese team comprising Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, backed by Tokyo.

The leak of those sensitive documents could lead Australia and the US to question French reliability on maintaining security on "top-secret data entrusted to France," The Australian reported.

The French defense ministry was not available for comment.

Those company documents give information on the Scorpene's underwater sensors, air/surface sensors, combat management system, torpedo launch system and specifications, communications and navigation systems, the paper reported. The documents include arrays from electronics firm Thales, which holds 35 percent of DCNS, with the French state holding the remaining stock.

Australia is in negotiation with DCNS on a three-year design contract, a key element in a planned local build of a 12-strong fleet of the Shortfin Barracuda, a program estimated to be worth $A50 billion ($38.1 billion). There were expectations that design deal would be sealed by the end of this year of early in 2017.

The US sensitivity stems from Australia’s plan to arm the boats with American weapons and to pick a US company for combat system integration. DCNS would work with the US contractor, expected to be either Raytheon or Lockheed Martin.

An Australian submarine from DCNS would be a diesel-electric version of the nuclear-powered Suffren class attack submarine being built for the French Navy.

On the Scorpene, DCNS is to supply six of the attack boats to the Indian Navy, with local assembly through a technology transfer to the Indian partner, Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks Ltd. That program is running four years late.

Meanwhile, the Australian government said the leak would have no effect on its submarine project.

"The Minister for Defence Industry has received advice from the Department of Defence that what is reported to have taken place in regards to the DCNS project in India has no bearing on the Australian Government’s Future Submarine Program," Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said in a statement. "The Future Submarine Program operates under stringent security requirements that govern the manner in which all information and technical data is managed now and into the future.

"The same requirements apply to the protection of all sensitive information and technical data for the Collins class submarines, and have operated successfully for decades."

India has called the Navy to look into what it called a hacking incident.

"It is a case of hacking," Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said. "Navy Chief has been asked to analyze as to what exactly has been leaked."

The Indian Navy said Aug. 24, "A case of suspected leak of documents related to Scorpene submarines has been reported by a foreign media house. The available information is being examined at Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) and an analysis is being carried out by the concerned specialists. It appears that the source of leak is from overseas and not in India."

Indian Navy officers declined to comment on whether the leak of data could weaken the combat worthiness of the submarines.

This is the latest example of a cyber attack on a company, said Jean-Pierre Maulny, deputy director of think tank Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques. "This is a fraudulent act," he said.

A leak comes at a sensitive time as DCNS hopes to win a second Indian order for the Scorpene and is pursuing deals with Norway and Poland, he said. "The timing has been well picked," he added.

DCNS has delivered the Scorpene to Chile and Malaysia.

Nigel Pittaway and Vivek 


contributed to this report.

More In Naval