The British Navy wants to build a new ship to protect the undersea cables of the communications and data infrastructure. The UK Defense Secretary raised concerns that Russia might attempt to sabotage this critical infrastructure with submarines. That’s what he told the BBC.
New ship with sensors and underwater drones
The new ship of the Royal Navy will take over surveillance and defense tasks and will be manned by 15 people, Defense Secretary Wallace told the BBC. His statements are an anticipation of a military strategy paper due to be released on Monday. The “Multi Role Ocean Surveillance” ship will be equipped with advanced sensors and have remote-controlled, autonomous underwater drones that can collect data.
The ship is to be commissioned in 2024; it is said to operate in both UK and international waters. It will also be able to take on other defense recordings, including operations in the Arctic.
Submarine cables as critical infrastructure
The “critical” submarine cables are “incredibly important,” said the defense minister. If the national infrastructure were to be lost, “the lights would go out” in the country. The global cables between countries and continents ensure Internet and communication connections as well as economic transactions. The Department of Defense sees them as vital to the global economy and intergovernmental communications, Wallace said. They are “at risk of sabotage” through “submarine warfare”.
The defense minister is keeping an eye on Russia: the country is very interested in cables. Without additional protection, Britain would be “deeply at risk”. Sabotage is a real danger and an existential threat to Britain. British and US intelligence agencies and the military recently warned that Russian submarines were “operating aggressively” near Atlantic undersea cables, the BBC said.
Russian submarines sighted near cables
Russia “certainly has a great deal of interest in the cables, not just those to the United Kingdom but also those to the European continent,” said Wallace. Therefore, the new ship will not only protect the critical national infrastructure, but also “other things”. It will take over “monitoring functions around the sea and everything else”.
The sighting of Russian submarines near submarine cables alarmed NATO as early as 2017. At that time, the alliance feared sabotage and wiretapping by Russia, which could be directed against the cable-linked NATO countries. The operations observed at the time had reached a level not seen since the end of the Cold War.
International disputes over connections
Interest in eavesdropping on the data streams is reciprocal, however: In the course of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the activities of the NSA, it emerged not only that this US foreign intelligence service was tapping into submarine cables, but that Great Britain was probably also eavesdropping on worldwide data traffic in numerous places. The planning of submarine cables between continents is also the subject of political disputes, for example between the USA and China over a connection between North America and Hong Kong.