The New York Times reported that Russia may have the capability to cut strategically important communications cables during a prospective conflict. The report said that while there is currently no concrete evidence to the effect, tensions between NATO and the US on one side, and Russia on the other, continue to increase. US Navy Rear Adm. Frederick J. Roegge said of the issue, “I’m worried every day about what the Russians may be doing.” He is the commander of the submarine fleet in the Pacific basin.
Because of their importance to the US military and its national economy, an attack on underwater cables could be devastating for the US as a whole. Undersea cables conduct global business on the order of $10 trillion a day. In addition, they carry in excess of 95 percent of daily communications, according to the Times. The locations of these cables are well-known and easily accessed.
USS Jimmy Carter
“The risk here is that any country could cause damage to the system and do it in a way that is completely covert, without having a warship with a cable-cutting equipment right in the area,” said Michael Sechrist, who once managed a Harvard-M.I.T. research project funded partly by the Defense Department. He pointed out that cables are cut frequently by natural disasters, and dragging anchors.
Of particular concern to the Pentagon is Russia’s scientific ship, Yantar. Operated by the Russian navy, the Yantar is equipped with two Mir-type submersibles that are capable of dives to approximately 20,000 feet. The average depth of the Atlantic Ocean, for instance, is approximately 12,880 feet, across which are multiple cables carrying data and voice that are essential to the economies of Europe and the United States. The Yantar was monitored recently as it trolled along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States on its way to Cuba. A crucially important undersea cable lands near Guantánamo – the US naval base on the Cuban mainland.
RT – the official Russian news service – accused the US of “tampering with other nations’ cables, although their interest has generally been in espionage.” The news outlet suggested that the USS Jimmy Carter submarine has the capability to tap into undersea optical cables.
DRSV Mystic attached to a Los Angeles class submarine
The Times reported that US officials observe recent Russian feints and manuevres with increasing concerns, especially after Russia’s incursions in Ukraine and its seizure of the Crimean peninsula. Navy spokesman Cmdr. William Marks would not specify these concerns, limiting himself to say “It would be a concern to hear any country was tampering with communication cables; however, due to the classified nature of submarine operations, we do not discuss specifics.”
According to researcher Michael Sechrist, the damage in network cables can secretly be done. “The risk here is that any country could cause damage to the system and do it in a way that is completely covert, without having a warship with a cable-cutting equipment right in the area,” The UK daily Independent quoted Sechrist as saying. “Cables get cut all the time - by anchors that are dragged, by natural disasters.”
In August 2015, Russia launched its BS-64 Podmoskovye special operations submarine - which is a reconversion project that began in 1999. The rebuild meant removing the vessel’s original compliment of 16 ballistic nuclear missiles and replacing them with a multi-mission platform. It may host a smaller submarine that can be launched to conduct sabotage and other covert missions. The smaller submersible could be the Priz class rescue vessel, or an as yet mysterious Losharik sub. Among the possibilities of such a system could be the splicing of the placing of eavesdropping taps, emplacing sea-floor sensors at naval base approaches or the removal of US or NATO sensors, as well as transporting teams of special operators who can conduct sabotage and espionage operations underwater or on land.
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