In NATO there is concern about the detection of Russian ships near submarine cable routes in the Mediterranean. His expertise: click and cut these infrastructures.
The New Pyramid of Maslow is a recurring joke on Twitter that consists of a modified version of the hierarchy of needs of the human being in which below (and, therefore, with greater importance) than the needs that guarantee physical survival is access Internet. Therefore, and because a growing part of the world’s economies depends on the network of networks, it is certain that in any future war conflict each side will try to disconnect the other from the global Internet, to damage its morale and its economy.
Which can be done in several ways, the most cutting of which is to attack the submarine cables that carry more than 99% of the global internet traffic. This subtle and fragile network is the potential target of specialized warships in the hands of the major powers (with the USA and Russia at the head), which can not only use them to cut submarine cables but also (it is suspected) to ‘puncture’ them and illicit access to its content even in times of peace. Something, by the way, totally habitual nowadays, according to Edward Snowden.
For this reason, NATO is concerned about the fact that Russian vessels specializing in underwater work, such as the Yantar, have recently been detected in the vicinity of the routes of certain submarine cables in the Mediterranean. It is clear that this country has ships and submarines specialized in this type of work, as well as the USA. Both countries have been building submarine ships adapted for special missions for decades, including clandestine work on the seabed, which can include installing listening devices to “puncture” the communications of a whole country to cable cutting. In other words: the fact that Russian ships have been sighted loitering near submarine cables managed by the US is not accidental.
Cut the Cable
Cutting submarine cables are very simple: careless fishermen and captains who do not look well at maps do so with their nets and anchors frequently. And attacking the communications of the enemy by cutting them is not new either: the initial war action of the First World War was the cut by the United Kingdom of the telegraph cables that united Germany with the rest of the world.
So important were these cables as means of communication that the remote archipelago of Cocos (Keeling), in the middle of the Indian Ocean and key point of the telegraphic and telephone communications between India, Australia, South Africa and Java, was attacked by German cruisers in the First World War, and in the Second suffered a riot and was bombed by the Japanese. Cutting wires is a cheap and damaging attack.
In NATO, it is worrying to see Russian submarine work vessels near these cables in the Mediterranean
The fact that the current global network of submarine cables is much more capable and dense than the old telegraph or telephone cables does not necessarily make it more resistant, as some recent incidents show. Between the end of January and the beginning of February 2008, up to five submarine cables were damaged in different parts of the Middle East,which caused a collapse of connectivity and serious problems of Internet access in the whole area that came to affect India: the temporal coincidence and the strategic volatility of the area led to suspect a terrorist attack, but it turned out to be a coincidence of accidents. More recently, a cut cable virtually disconnected all of Mauritania and Sierra Leone from the Internet for 48 hours and affected five more countries in West Africa. A cut cable is a major problem, and more so when the cut is in depth (harder to repair).
The War on the Seabed
It is well known that the US ‘jabbed’ underwater Russian cables during the Cold War through the clandestine installation of recorders by specialized submarines. It is suspected that the USSR carried out similar missions. And it is known that both contenders used their submarine ships to recover wrecks of interest such as planes dropped in the sea, remnants of missile tests or parts of sunken ships. The same submersible vessels that carried out these operations are in charge of installing systems on the seabed as hydrophones, to locate enemy ships, or carry out infiltration missions of commands through minisubmarines. This type of activities they were so profitable that both the USSR (and its successor, Russia) and the United States developed submarines and other specialized vessels.
The most extreme case was that of the Hughes Glomar Explorer and the Azorian Project, when the CIA, with the cooperation of billionaire Howard Hughes, built a huge ship supposedly for exploration, but actually designed to ‘steal’ the Soviet nuclear submarine K-129 that It had sunk deep into the Pacific with its SLBM missiles. The operation cost more than 800 million dollars (more than 4,000 million at the current exchange rate) and according to the official version had only partial success when recovering a small fragment of the Soviet ship with two nuclear torpedoes and six bodies of its crew. The economic and technological investment carried out demonstrates the great interest of this type of operations by the superpowers.
That is why both Cold War contenders ended up developing submersibles specifically adapted to this type of task. Almost all share a series of basic adaptations, such as retreating missiles (in your case), expansion of work areas and accommodation to transport extra personnel (technicians, divers, commands), hatches added to enter and leave the hull in immersion (people, manned and unmanned vehicles), hangars for vehicles , external gas stores and tools for divers, high pressure chambers for deep diving, extra thrusters for position control and sometimes skids for posing the submarine in the background. Some of the Russian models also serve as a mother ship of autonomous mini-submarines. The list of these spy ships that have been and are in service is long.
The USS Halibut was a nuclear submarine of cruise missiles adapted for ‘underwater engineering’. A euphemism for espionage missions. Originally launched in 1959, it was modified for its next mission by taking advantage of its cruise missile hangar and adding a pressurization chamber on the stern of the hull. At the beginning of his new career, he achieved enormous success in locating the K-129 wreck, which launched the Azorian Project.
But the Halibut is known above all for the operation IVY BELLS, the interception of the Soviet internal naval communications by means of the ‘pricking’ of a submarine cable in the Okhotsk Sea in the seventies. IVY BELLS consisted of installing a listening system on the cable located on the seabed, an operation carried out by deep divers who lived for weeks in a special pressure bell adapted to the helmet of the Halibut. The recordings were collected for analysis from time to time. As a cover to the sailors themselves they were told that the operation consisted of recovering fragments of a new Soviet anti-ship missile that was being tested in the area; in fact, the pieces were recovered and valuable information about the missile was extracted from them. But the main mission was another. The USS Halibut was removed in 1976.
The NR-1 was a nuclear submarine of great depth (more than 700 meters) launched in 1969 that as a curiosity had wheels to move around the bottom. Designed by internal rivalries in the US Navy to compete with the Halibut, it was strictly dedicated to espionage missions despite being camouflaged as a rescue and investigation vessel, for which it was painted bright orange. At only 40 meters long it was in its time a smaller built nuclear submarine, and to save space and weight its nuclear reactor was armoured only in the front to protect the crew. Its size and lack of minimum comfort elements meant that its maximum patrol time did not exceed one month, it is said because at that time his baths were filled. Withdrawn in 2009.
To complement the USS Halibut, the USS Seawolf was adapted, which had originally been the second nuclear submarine in service in the US Navy. From 1971 he was removed from his duties as an attack submarine and a stretch of almost 16 meters was added to the bow of the tower to accommodate the necessary equipment, such as pressure chambers and extendable skids to alight on the bottom. In 1974 he joined his new ultrasecret missions working with the Halibut; It was removed in 1987.
The NR-1, they said, was a mini-submarine so small that in a month their bathrooms were filled
To replace the USS Halibut, an attack submarine of the Sturgeon class, the USS Patch, was chosen. Launched in 1973 it entered service as an attack submarine with the Atlantic fleet in 1974, but in October 1976 it was transferred to the Pacific and began its transformation into a spy submarine, works that would last until 1978. In this phase, it received the diving bell externally that had brought the Halibut and other modifications. Later he would receive a compartment behind the tower and a forward extension of 30 meters, as well as retractable skates. The Patch was incorporated into Operation IVY BELLS and later participated in numerous espionage operations becoming the most decorated submarine in the history of the US Navy. His career ended with his retirement in 2005.
The Last Survivor
Also worth mentioning is the USS Richard B. Russell, a fast-attack submarine (or SSN) of the Sturgeon class that received modifications to act as a ‘special projects’ and experimental vessel. The Russell was active between 1982 and 1993 and was retired in 1994, receiving numerous decorations during his career. Less adapted than the Patch, however, some of its adaptations were later added to its half-size. Up to four more Sturgeons also received external hangars to transport autonomous submersibles for use by the SEAL commandos in clandestine infiltration missions and were operational during the years of the end of the Cold War.
Currently, the only active submarine spy in the US Navy is the USS Jimmy Carter, third and last of the advanced and expensive SSN of the Seawolf class built. The Jimmy Carter received extensive adaptations during its construction beginning with a 30 m insert in its hull that contains a multi-mission platform with workspace, hangars for submersible vehicles (manned and remote-controlled) and hatches for entering and leaving in immersion. It also has thrusters for stationary over a fixed point. Their missions, of high secret, include the installation and recovery of machinery and objects on the seabed and the infiltration of commands; has received several decorations and returned to port more than eleven waving the pirate flag, a tradition of US submariners indicating a mission accomplished in its entirety.
Red Backgrounds: Soviet Vehicles
The USSR and its main descendant, the Russian Federation, have always been very interested in this type of vehicles, which are especially useful for the planned and now in full development of the country’s Arctic strategy.
With global warming and the retreat of the ice from the North Pole, new opportunities are opening up for Russia, both above and below water, both strategic and economic. The Russian Navy has years of experience in the construction and operation of sophisticated submarines and other equipment to exploit the new resources and opportunities, which include from automatic submarine stations to the future installation of nuclear systems on the seabed to recharge autonomous and manned vehicles.
Already in the mid-sixties, the USSR built the so-called Archipelago Complex, a deep capsule nicknamed Seliger that was transported and deployed by means of a cable from a submarine diesel-electric class Zulú specially adapted. The system was tested at depths of up to 3,000 m, but it was extremely dangerous, had limited autonomy and made it necessary to develop an elite crew unit. It was so successful however that at least two other Zulu classes were adapted in the 1970s and a quarter (BS-82) was adopted by installing a special sonar to locate submarine cables and help the Seliger’s find their targets. It is known that the Archipelago Complex operated in the Baltic, the Arctic, the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and it is suspected that these units were involved in incidents in Sweden.
Their replacements began to be built in the mid-1970s: they were the Kashalot class ( Uniform in NATO terminology) of small deep-sea nuclear submarines. Small in size but capable of submerging up to 1,000 m in depth, thanks to their double titanium hull they have extra thrusters, folding skids and manipulator’s arms. At least two (AS-13 and AS-15) were built and deployed, of which one is still in service; the third (AS-33) is not known if it came to operate.
Almost parallel to the Uniforms, the X-RAY class was developed, called the Station of Great Depth in Russian service. These are minisubmarines equivalent to the much older US NR-1, which in this case were designed to be transported by a submarine nurse Echo-II class modified. The X-RAY and the modifications necessary for its coupling are below the waterline of the Echo-II, so it is not possible to analyze them in detail. It is suspected that minisubmarines have a maximum depth of 1,000 and have locks for divers, floodlights and manipulator arms, as well as position propellers. Only one X_RAY was built, although the model was improved in two subsequent semigemels that were designated Paltus class by NATO. It is believed that both the X-RAY and the two Paltus are active.
As is his successor, the AS-12 Losharik; another high depth minisubmarine with more modern design and equipment. With a size similar to the Uniform the Losharik is transported however by a submarine nurse like the X-RAY instead of acting as an autonomous vehicle. Its mother submarines are the BS-64 Podmoskovye, an SSBN of the class Delta IV that was extensively modified for its new function while it was still under construction, and its semigemelo the BS-136 Orenburg (an adapted Delta III).
The most important modification was the removal of the missile compartment, which was replaced by a new segment of similar diameter but somewhat longer, which makes the Podmoskovye the longest submarine in the world beating the Russian SBN Typhoon. In its lower part, out of sight, it carries the necessary systems for coupling and transporting minisubmarines such as the Losharik. The latter differs from similar ones by its structure, having the inner hull composed of seven interconnected spheres; This greatly reduces the interior space but increases the resistance. It is believed that it can descend to more than 1,000 m depth, but the details of its equipment are unknown.
But the next Russian spy submarine will also be able to transport the Losharik (and perhaps his cousin’s X-RAY and Paltus). This is Project 09852 KC-152 Belgorod, which is being adapted for its new missions. This is an Oscar II class SSGN (like the ill-fated Kursk) to which the anti-ship missile launchers Granit have been withdrawn and new equipment is being installed. The Belgorod has been lengthened, making it larger than the Typhoons, and will be able to transport unmanned drone submarines such as the Harpsichord2P-PM and up to six strategic Kanyon / Status-6 torpedoes in addition to the high-depth minisubmarines. It is expected to enter service soon, perhaps this year, and will reinforce missions such as the installation of a sensor network in the Arctic and the deployment of the famous underwater nuclear refuelling plants for underwater drones.
If we add to all of these submarines oceanographic and special operations vessels and even those dedicated to laying and repairing cables, which of course have the capacity to cut them, there is not much doubt: the first displeasure of any future confrontation between superpowers It will be the death of the internet. And if it happens, it will hurt.
Source: El Confidencial