UK Defence Secretary Promises 2 Ships to Protect Underwater Cables

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Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says the British government plans to commit “two specialist ships” to the task of protecting vital underwater cables which could be attacked by Russia or other hostile foreign powers.

Wallace told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham the “mysterious” damage suffered by the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic on Sept. 26 was a reminder of how “fragile” the British economy was to such an attack on its underwater infrastructure.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said claims the leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines were because of Russian sabotage was “predictably stupid” but he said, “This looks like some kind of terrorist act, possibly at the state level.”

Russia shut down Nord Stream 1 last month, citing a need for maintenance, and Nord Stream 2 was halted by Germany in February, days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Wallace said Russia had made “no secret” of its capacity to damage and disrupt underwater infrastructure.

Britain ‘Highly Reliant on Pipelines and Cables’

Wallace said, “our internet and energy are highly reliant on pipelines and cables” and he said: “Our intent is to protect them … I can announce we recently committed to two specialist ships with the capability to keep our cables and pipelines safe.”

He said by the end of 2022 the Royal Navy would purchase a “multi-role survey ship for seabed warfare” which would be kitted out and fully operational by the end of 2023.

The second ship would be built from scratch at a British shipyard but might not be operational for several years.

In January the head of Britain’s armed forces, Adm. Sir Tony Radakin, said Russian submarines posed a major threat to underwater cables which transmit internet data globally.

Radakin, a former head of the Royal Navy, told The Times of London there had been a “phenomenal increase in Russian submarine and underwater activity” in the past 20 years.

In December 2021 a Royal Navy frigate, HMS Northumberland, lost part of its sonar after colliding with a Russian submarine, which it was tracking, in the Arctic Circle.

During his conference speech, Wallace backed Prime Minister Liz Truss’s pledge to invest 3 percent of Britain’s GDP in defence by 2030 and he challenged Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer to match that promise.

“You know, Mr. Starmer, investing in defence and supporting our troops requires a lot more than waving the Union Jack. You have to actually fund them. You have to actually recognise that as threat changes so must the investment,” the defence secretary told his audience.

PA Media contributed to this report.

Chris Summers


Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.

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