The emergence of seabed warfare as a strategic, political, and operational risk for Western countries is prompting navies to consider capability requirements, and the importance of co-operation, in addressing this risk.
Speaking to the Undersea Defence Technology 2022 conference in Rotterdam, Netherlands in early June, Rear Admiral Huub Hulsker, the Royal Netherlands Navy’s (RNLN’s) deputy commander, discussed how the threat to underwater cables and wider seabed critical national infrastructure in the North Sea is becoming a security challenge for the Netherlands.
“We must protect vulnerable installations and cables as best as possible, and we must monitor potential opponents closely and, if necessary, disrupt their activities in order to prevent undesirable damage to our vital infrastructure,” he said.
While the RNLN has no specialist seabed warfare ships in its current or planned future inventory, RAdm Hulsker noted that the navy’s new mine-countermeasures vessel (MCMV) programme could – in the future – provide platforms for embarking capability ‘toolboxes’ designed to tackle seabed risks. In mid-June, the keel for the RNLN’s first future MCMV was laid in Vlissingen, Netherlands.
“The question should not be whether the RNLN or any navy’s capabilities should be brought to bear to face this challenge, but what capabilities are needed,” Jeroen de Jonge, Naval Programmes business director at TNO (the Netherlands’ scientific innovation organisation) and a former RNLN officer, told the conference.
“That means it’s the combined capabilities of industries – the civilian sector, the oil and gas sector, the industries that lay these data cables – but also the government that is responsible for setting the requirements for those systems. When you combine that with the ‘sharp end’ of the capability that navies provide, I think then you are getting close to the answer.”
“If you then focus on what naval capabilities can bring to bear, you need persistence, precision, and performance,” de Jonge continued. “We are working quite hard with the navies to try to get that.”
“Persistence is perhaps the key because, as soon as you go home to refuel for example, then your adversary might think it is a very good opportunity to place something on the seabed again,” de Jonge added. “So, how do you acquire persistence; that would be my question to this eminent audience.”
by Dr. Lee Willett