The reduction of the UK’s anti-submarine warfare capability, which has been a core task of the Royal Navy for decades, has been criticised by the Defence Committee.

In its report Russia: Implications for UK defence and security published in July 2016, the Defence Select Committee identified the Arctic and the High North as an area of concern, largely due to the increasingly clear evidence of Russian military expansion. The Committee also resolved to undertake a closer examination of the region in a dedicated inquiry.

“The willingness of the UK to play a greater role in the security of the Arctic and the High North is tempered by the concern that Defence does not have sufficient resources to establish a meaningful presence in the region. Platforms and capabilities which might have a role in the High North are heavily committed elsewhere, and, with the Modernising Defence Programme still to be completed, there is no indication of new resources being applied. We ask the Department to explain how the Arctic and High North has featured in the strategic analysis undertaken in the course of the National Security Capability Review and the Modernising Defence Programme and how these will be represented in future policy.

The historical importance of the maritime space stretching from the Arctic to the North Atlantic is well established, but we can see that many of the strategic considerations which were present in the recent past are now re-emerging. The marked increase in Russian naval activity in the waters around the British Isles and the entrances to the Atlantic is clearly a matter of concern to the Government.

We are equally concerned about the United Kingdom’s ability to match this threat adequately. The reduction of the UK’s anti-submarine warfare capability, which has been a core task of the Royal Navy for decades, has been noted in recent Committee reports and we repeat those concerns here. While the capability of the surface and sub-surface vessels the Royal Navy operates is world class, there are not enough platforms available for the task in hand, and vessels that are in service are often committed to standing tasks elsewhere.”

The report also discusses the threat of communications disruption:

“The threat to undersea data cables is a real one, and the consequences of such networks being disrupted would be serious. We accept that the Government shares this concern and is aware of the associated risks. But this risk further reinforces the need for effective situational awareness to support maritime security and a credible anti-submarine detection capability to deter hostile activity.

An issue raised to particular prominence by the then Chief of the Defence Staff in December 2017 was the vulnerability of undersea data cables to hostile submarine action. As one submission noted:

“These connections—which carry almost all global internet communications—can be eavesdropped, thus allowing vital information to be gleaned. Cutting these cables could cause huge damage to economic markets and interrupt social communications.”

A 2017 report from Policy Exchange highlighted the vulnerability of undersea cables and the level of disruption that could be caused in a short period of time if the key data and communications links that they provide are cut. Russian naval activity along known routes of undersea cables has increased.

This, together with Russian naval expansion and widespread utilisation of hybrid warfare techniques, suggested that there was a real risk to cables. The report also noted that the GIUK Gap is home to several key undersea cable routes, the cutting of which would disrupt communication between NATO allies in the region, such as Iceland and Canada. It recommended that that NATO maritime exercises should incorporate the possibility of attacks on undersea cables and that the nature of the international response in the event of such an attack should be more seriously considered.

The MoD said in its written evidence on this matter:

“We regard undersea cables as part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure and monitor a variety of threats to them, including from possible hostile maritime activity. For security reasons, we do not comment on specific assessments. Russia has a formidable sub-surface warfare capability. It poses a unique security challenge including in the North Atlantic Ocean … We continue working with industry to ensure our subsea cable network is secure and have a variety of tools to monitor potentially hostile maritime activity.”

22 COMMENTS

  1. Finally, a siren call that we are not investing enough in defence.

    I hope the oft repeated mantra of we are investing X Bn over 10 years (first uttered by that tw@t Fallon) in 2015? and repeated ad nauseum ever since, will be dropped.

    The RN and RAF needed significant uplift in ring fenced spending, and no, not courtesy of the DfID budget, but a significant amount which allows them to both restore and grow manpower as well as platforms.

    Rant over.

    • There isn’t really a “finally” about it. The Committee has been plugging away for ages, they just don’t get listened to sadly.

        • until voters actually give a crap about defense spending it wont change….. most people still say “it should go to the nhs” whenever you dare raise military spending… and until voters care, the politicians in charge wont care

    • Check over on the P8 Lossimouth article.

      Harriet Baldwin is still at it!!! 178 billion blah blah blah.

      It is for joe public consumption not researchers who know different.

  2. Fine points Riga. But the reality is the Swiftsure and T boat classes will never be replaced on a one for one basis. A six boat small littoral sub force is required but with manning still a huge concern for the RN it will never happen. And that is the elephant in the room.

  3. We need the frigate fleet to be T26 ASW capable – T31 is a sideshow, much as I would like Cammel Laird to be building them.

    We also need more subs. I would live another 4 Astute class but think 8 advanced diesel for GIUK would be better value.

    On aircraft I am sure others have better insight.

  4. I hope we are replying in kind, i.e. if they are threatening our infrasture and way of life, surely we should be doing the same to them:

    – mess with their elections (athough their elections are elections only in name)
    – mess with their cables (I presume they have some)
    – constantly infringe or get close to their airspace (if we don’t already)
    – and so on.

    • Of course we do. The We being the western allies, mainly the USA with UK input. Whether European NATO allies do not sure.

      USN Project Ivy Bells springs to mind. Sea of Okhotsk in 80s. Cables intercepted.

      Look up that traitor Snowden and read about something called Tempora. UK USA intercept of undersea cables, especially in the Middle East. If we do it there we can do it to Russia.

      Airspace. Gary Powers got shot down actually over the Urals! That was long ago though.

      SAC Rivet Joints and numerous other aircraft would fly the periphery of their borders, especially in the Cold War. No reason why USAF Rivets don’t now, especially in the Baltic, and off the Kamchatka Peninsula.

      RN and USN subs operated, and no doubt still do, in the Barents Sea off Murmansk.

      I laugh at the Irony at the outrage in the papers and on here sometimes at elderly Bear aircraft and more modern Blackjacks testing the UKADR when we have been doing it in reverse for decades.

      • Please, do not mention the name of Snowden, or bring up his treasonous acts. He is still considered a hero to the American left, but to me he belongs in the bottom circle of hell with Brutus.

  5. Decades of depleting UK armed forces to below critical levels. We’re sleepwalking into oblivion unless HMG stops deluding the electorate with spin & gets serious about collecting the same proportion of income taxed from the highest earners that the middle has to pay. It is sick & perverse that the richest get away “legally” practically scot-free from contributing to tax for society & defence while vital services are cut to dangerous levels. The later Roman empire collapsed after significant tax-free status was granted to the richest, leaving the army starved of resources.

    We don’t have enough warships, aircraft or submarines, refuse to fund the personnel & careers to man what little we do have left & we’ve become dangerously complacent allowing major capability gaps to become normal.
    The way maintaining RN numbers over the next decade is presented as some kind of “growth” & the slipshod way replacements are planned & delayed looks like producing more reductions in real operating capabilities. Given the UKs dependency on secure maritime trade, with such a tiny fleet every destroyer & frigate should be capable of high end ASW. Get the DDG/FFG fleet up to 25 or 30 & then produce less capable T31s. We need a larger number of P-8 Posoidons too, preferably under RN/FAA control.

  6. As wind power now contributes about 18% of our energy needs, what do we have in place to protect our wind farms in the North Sea and elsewhere? Is this the job of our subs, too?

  7. Good question antidote.
    Answer not a lot.
    Our offshore critical infrastructure has actually increased. Meanwhile the available offshore patrol resources have dwindled to one of the lowest in the world. I say this as a ratio of offshore patrol assets Vs area of EEZ and maritime patrol duty zones.
    We need to retain the River batch 1s refit and upgrade them and invest in some UAVs/ drones (preferably armed) to exponentially increase the area each patrol ship can keep under surveillance.

    • As anti-submarine warfare is of the utmost importance to us, why haven’t we gone down the route of producing small, say River class batch 2 size, ships that do nothing but patrol for subs in our own waters, i.e. for self defence and as a deterrent? Surely a ship that size, made quiter, with a hull sonar, a towed sonar and a helicopter hanger wouldn’t cost the earth? Add a Phalanx or SeaRam for self defence, and that’s it. Or would they be worthless and/or not fit our doctrine?

      • Well, the newer OPVs are capable of taking a Merlin, whether or when they do or not I have no idea. You do “see” one (marinetraffic AIS) patrolling around the rigs and UKSC occasionally. I guess also the P-8As will help a bit.

        I agree more needs to be done

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