The vulnerability of undersea cables to “bad actors”, be they state-sponsored or terrorist, has been noticed by the UK and other governments. A Royal Navy task force of seven ships will deploy with allies early in December to patrol areas with vulnerable undersea critical infrastructure.
An agreement was reached by ministers of the 10 Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) nations.
The UK contribution to the deployment will include two Royal Navy frigates, two offshore patrol vessels and mine countermeasures vessels, as well as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship – supported by a Royal Air Force P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
The UK vessels and aircraft will join other ships and aircraft from JEF participant nations to launch joint patrols, with vessels spaced to cover a wide area from the English Channel to the Baltic Sea.
The defence ministers from all 10 JEF nations met on Tuesday November 28th and agreed unanimously to activate a protocol mobilizing military assets from across participant nations. This JEF Response Option (JRO) is an innovation for the JEF and is perhaps an indication of the seriousness with which European nations in particular are beginning to view the importance of undersea cables to communications infrastructure, and the ease with which at the moment they can be damaged – either intentionally or accidentally. What looks likely to have been an unfortunate accident in November impacted undersea infrastructure in Baltic Sea littoral states.
The patrols will ensure an extended security presence, picking up from NATO’s enhanced vigilance activity, which took place in the Baltic Sea region throughout November.
The JEF consists of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.
At a meeting of leaders from the JEF nations last month, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak promised to step up the UK’s military presence in northern Europe – deploying more than 20,000 troops to the region next year, with the aim of combating emerging hybrid threats and defending “critical national infrastructure”.