New low: Now Putin is targeting vital undersea cables
UK and US scramble to track Russian submarines amid fears of renewed 'Cold War cat and mouse games'
Britain and the US fear Vladimir Putin is prepared to cause financial chaos by attacking undersea cables between the countries, and they are going to extraordinary lengths to track Russian submarines.
US and UK military sources have told the Sunday Telegraph that Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic has reached a 25-year high and there has been a return to “Cold War cat-and-mouse games” under the sea.
Amid mounting tensions with the Kremlin, the allies are using a remarkable array of modern technology and military equipment to make sure they know exactly where the submarines are as they move around the region. Satellites spot when the submarines leave naval bases and intercept communications, while planes fly over the sea scanning a 100-square-mile radius.
Helicopters dangle “sonar buoys” in the water to detect submarine movement, while warships drag pipes more than half a kilometre long rigged with underwater microphones.
British and American submarines with listening devices are able to follow the Russian submarines, while fixed listening devices placed on the seabed alert officials when they pass. UK and US military figures liaise when a Russian submarine is being followed, with the Norwegians, French and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) also often being involved.
One fear is that Putin could attempt to interfere with undersea communication cables that carry data on which stock markets in both the US and UK are reliant. “The largest exchange of data between America and Europe is via undersea cables from New York and the UK,” said one well-placed British source. “Putin has the means and the capability to disrupt that if he wished. It is not stretching reality to paint a scenario where he would.”
A US navy official said there had been a “return of great power competition” and that America has its “laser focused on increasing our war-fighting readiness” to counter foes.
In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 much of the country’s navy, the pride of the nation since Peter the Great, was sold off or junked. However, under Putin’s leadership there has been a concerted effort to build up the Russian navy again, with a particular focus on submarines.
In recent years, as Russia has annexed Crimea, stoked civil war in Ukraine and meddled in a US election, there has also been an increase in Russian activity under the North Atlantic. Currently, at most times of the year there is at least one Russian submarine in the region or heading towards it.
The surge in activity has sent the UK and US scrambling to re-engage. In March, Britain deployed a submarine under the Arctic for the first time in a decade.
Gavin Williamson, the UK defence secretary, recently said 800 British commandos would be deployed to Norway to counter Russian aggression. And earlier this year, America re-established its Second Fleet, which is responsible for patrolling the North Atlantic and had been inactive since 2011.
Nato is also creating a new joint forces command for the region based in Norfolk, Virginia.
– © The Daily Telegraph