Much noise is being made over the Australian “media expose” of the 22,000-page know-how and secret data leakage of the state-of-the-art Scorpene stealth submarines, which are being built in India’s Mazagon Dockyard under a collaboration agreement with the French supplier. The foreign publication has threatened to expose more. The French designer has gone to the court. However, this is not for the first time that a highly guarded defence technology transfer by an overseas armament manufacturer and supplier to India became part of public knowledge through the media. In the mid-1980s, under Rajiv Gandhi’s Prime Ministership, the German technology to build HDW submarines, also in the Mazagon Docks, which India purchased at huge cost those days, was reported as “already sold and transferred” with other sensitive documents to South Africa. The HDW submarine deal caused a huge embarrassment to Rajiv Gandhi and his government not for the know-how leak alone, but also for a kickback allegedly received by those involved in the purchase deal, including the Prime Minister. Tragically, the government said it was unaware of both the developments before they were exposed by the overseas media.
At the outset, let this be made clear that the linkage of the two defence purchase scandals is not to underscore the nation’s security concern over the latest technology transfer leak around French Scorpene. The matter looks serious and highly sensitive to the country’s security. The government shouldn’t waste time to launch an independent high-power investigation into the latest media leakage which may not have been possible without a direct connect with the state-owned French defence supplier. The secret know-how and data leakage with regard to Scorpene, which is being built in India under French collaboration, is unlikely to be a mere computer hacker’s job. Computer security hackers did not exist when the HDW submarines blueprint held by the South African government was leaked and first brought to the notice of India’s Defence Minister through an ordinary mail from the country’s then Ambassador in Germany. Surprisingly, India chose to distance itself from the HDW controversy which was raised at the UN General Assembly as South Africa was an apartheid nation facing trade ban, including defence supplies, then.
The HDW, a German concern, not only gave South Africa blueprints of the submarines it had sold to India, but also some "sensitive details" which compromised India's security as well. This was part of its deal with South Africa, signed on June 15, 1984. It was reported that on November 22, 1989, under specific instructions from the Rajiv Gandhi government, the Indian delegation to the 63rd meeting of the United Nations General Assembly abstained in a vote that retained a condemnatory reference to the West German firms and to West Germany in connection with the supply to South Africa of blueprints for the manufacture of submarines and other related military material. The abstention came on a motion related to the UN General Assembly resolution A/44/L. 34/rev.1 entitled "Military collaboration with South Africa".
The UN General Assembly voted on the question of retaining the reference to the two corporations and the Government of West Germany in the operative paragraph 1 of the resolution that strongly deplored the actions of those state and organisations which directly or indirectly continue to violate the arms embargo and collaborate with South Africa in the military, nuclear, intelligence, and technology fields and, it particular, Israel for providing nuclear technology and two corporations based in the Federal Republic of Germany, for supplying blueprints for the manufacture of submarines and other related military material and calls upon Israel to terminate forthwith such hostile acts and upon the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany to honour its obligations under Resolution 421 (1977) by prosecuting the said corporations'.
More recently, Fuyi Sun, aka Frank, 52, a citizen of the People's Republic of China, was arrested, tried and convicted in the US for allegedly trying to export high-grade carbon fibre, which is used for military aviation applications like the construction of drones. The carbon fiber - which has many aerospace and defense applications - is strictly controlled, and Sun expressed a willingness to pay a premium to skirt US export laws. As alleged, Fuyi Sun attempted for years to acquire high-grade carbon fiber for illegal export to China, said US Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York. "Earlier this week, after traveling to New York from China to finalise the deal, Sun allegedly told undercover agents that the carbon fiber he sought was headed for the Chinese military, and then paid tens of thousands of dollars in cash to purchase two cases of it. And to avoid law enforcement detection, Sun allegedly directed the undercover agents to ship the carbon fiber in unmarked boxes and to falsify the shipping documents regarding the contents of the boxes," Bharara said. Also, secret U.S. missile and electro-optics technology was reportedly transferred to China recently by Israel, prompting anger from the U.S. and causing a senior Israeli defense official to resign. The head of defense exports for the Israeli Defense Ministry resigned after a U.S. investigation concluded that technology, including a miniature refrigeration system manufactured by Ricor and used for missiles and in electro-optic equipment, was sent to China, reported Israeli newspaper Maariv. Another Israeli news site, Aretz Sheva, said the U.S. is concerned the technology could ultimately find its way to Iran, which had earlier sought to buy military equipment from China for its nuclear program. Israel has a long record of getting U.S. military technology to China.
Unfortunately, most high tech western defence deals – especially with government buyers from the Third World – often land up in controversy due to inspired intelligence leaks by either foreign business rivals or governments having a strategic rivalry with the recipients of such technology and arms. However, the massive illegal trade and transfer of high-tech defence technologies and war equipment to nations governed by military hawks are probably more common than the legal sale and technology transfers to countries like India. Incidentally, Israel, China, Pakistan and North Korea are alleged to be the epicentres of high-tech defence smuggling, including nuclear arms and missile technology. It is possible that the intelligence leak with regard to Scorpene leak was inspired by some of these countries. However, it is unlikely to affect India’s Scorpene construction programme.
(Views are strictly personal.)