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[SYDNEY] French defence contractor DCNS has been hit by a massive leak of secret data on its submarines likely to alarm India, Malaysia and Chile, which use the boats, The Australian newspaper reported Wednesday.
The 22,400 leaked pages, which the daily said it had seen, detail the combat capability of the Scorpene-class submarine DCNS designed for the Indian navy, and variants of which are used by Malaysia and Chile.
Brazil is also due to deploy the vessels from 2018.
Australia awarded DCNS an A$50 billion (S$51.5 billion) contract last April to design and build its next generation of submarines.
But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sought to play down the impact in Canberra saying while the leak 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." Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne issued a statement saying the leak "has no bearing on the Australian government's future submarine programme".
The programme, the statement said, "operates under stringent security requirements that govern the manner in which all information and technical data is managed now and into the future".
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.
DCNS told AFP that it was aware of the articles published in the Australian press and that "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 navy officer who at the time was a subcontractor for DCNS.
The data is believed to have passed through firms in Southeast Asia before eventually being mailed to a company in Australia, the newspaper said.
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.
The DCNS website says the new vessel would be "the recipient of France's most sensitive and protected submarine technology and will be the most lethal conventional submarine ever contemplated".