After the Nord Stream incident, the defense of the seabed called to strengthen

After the Nord Stream incident, the seabed defense called to strengthen

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Crossed by key infrastructures and rich in deposits, the seabed is emerging as a growing area of ​​confrontation whose defense becomes more crucial every day, especially after the alleged sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines.< /strong> 

“The real revolution is drones, which will bring mass, performance and exposure where human resources will probably be less exposed. But they also bring capabilities to adversaries, which requires developing capabilities in parallel to protect themselves,” explains AFP Éric Chaperon, naval defense adviser at the French industrialist Thales.

“We are going to see drone-on-drone or swarm-on-swarm battles in the near future. This will profoundly upset naval doctrines, firstly because a 5,000 euro drone can cause millions of damage to a warship, but also because the use of these unmanned means risks lowering the threshold of 'commitment to theatres,' says Mr. Chaperon.

This subject, and more broadly the question of the defense of the seabed, will be at the heart of several round tables and demonstrations at the Euronaval international exhibition, dedicated to the naval defense sector, which opens on Tuesday in Paris.

Thales, for example, will promote its fully droneized and autonomous underwater mine neutralization system, the MMCM, in the operational evaluation phase by the French and British navies. The manufacturer will also present the latest addition to its range of acoustic buoys, the Sonoflash, or its towed sonar, Captas-4, recently chosen by the US Navy.

Ongoing modernization

“The new and challenging subject of the moment is the question of deep seas and we are only at the beginning,” Hugues d'Argentré, director of Euronaval, told AFP. 

The question is particularly sensitive after the discovery at the end of September of four huge leaks on the two Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia to Germany, caused according to the first investigations by underwater detonations and a very probable sabotage.

Since then, a number of countries have announced that they want to strengthen the surveillance of their strategic infrastructures at the bottom of the sea, betting for this on new technologies.

The vulnerability of these infrastructures “has put submarine warfare back at the center of attention” even if the research had never stopped, underlines to AFP Brigham McCown, researcher at the Hudson Institute.

It is a question of improving the underwater capacities by great depths or the acoustic discretion of the activities. 

“Marines are constantly trying to update their ability to detect and identify anything in the water, both through active and passive techniques,” says Mr. McCown, also emphasizing the importance of drones.

Among the most emblematic projects in development is the Orca XLUUV autonomous underwater drone, developed by Boeing for the United States Navy.

Its missions could range from patrols at sea to reconnaissance missions, through electronic warfare or the fight against surface ships.

China is working on its side on a “great wall” under marine, vast system of sensors and underwater drones to protect its installations at sea.

Did France adopt a military strategy in mid-February to monitor the deep seabed, with the objective of descending to a depth of 6,000 meters by 2025 via a robot with an umbilical cord and an underwater drone? sailors? Its capabilities are currently limited to 3,000 meters.

Reinforced attention

With the Nord Stream incident, “it is clear that the attention paid to national critical underwater infrastructure (…) and their vulnerability has been intensified,” Nick Childs, naval force specialist at the British international think tank Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told AFP.

< p>With an average depth of 3,800 meters, the seabed is still largely unknown, but access to it is becoming more democratic and fueling envy.

In addition to significant gas or oil resources, certain seabeds contain various rare metals. It also runs key infrastructures such as gas pipelines, and over almost a million kilometres, some 500 cables carrying more than 90% of the world's communications and Internet flows.

The “dependence on these critical infrastructures” has increased a lot and “being able to protect (them) in full (…) is not an easy task”, points out Mr. Childs.