During their meeting in Amsterdam on 13 June, the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) defence ministers discussed their increased focus on protecting underwater and offshore infrastructure.

Ministers and representatives agreed in a joint statement to deepen co-operation in this area, including through sharing of intelligence.

“Today we face common challenges including Russian vessels mapping critical undersea and offshore infrastructure, indicating preparations for possible disruption and, at worst, sabotage,” the UK Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, identified.

The JEF will accelerate co-operation to detect, deter and respond to threats against critical undersea and offshore infrastructure, reassure allies and demonstrate collective commitment to the security and stability of Northern Europe; all in full alignment with Nato.

Wallace went on to provide the details on which the JEF will co-operate:

“The JEF will specifically strengthen efforts with regard to actively sharing tactical intelligence and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) information on possible maritime threats to ensure a common situational awareness.

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“JEF Participant Nations will continue to co-operate closely, in conjunction with Nato, to co-ordinate presence and will pool and share capabilities to deter and respond to threats in the JEF core regions. [This will] include aspects of protecting critical undersea and offshore infrastructure and assessed vulnerabilities in future activities.

“Finally, JEF countries will share best practices and seek ways to co-operate in their respective approaches to the protection of critical undersea and offshore infrastructure.”

Expansion in undersea capabilities

Europe’s defence industry has made moves to expand and innovate the undersea capabilities sector.

This week alone, the Italian Navy provided an “integrated services centre” for Thales to manufacture sonar technologies for submarines in its La Speiza naval base on the Ligurian Sea.

As well as this, Fincantieri has announced it will now provide services to German Navy submarines in order to benefit from Germany’s “largest shipbuilding capacity in the world” for conventional submarines.

These moves within industry signal the growing prominence of undersea capabilities. The two companies will gain greater resources through close co-operation with European navies to lead in an industry that has a crucial demand.

Vital infrastructure could be a target

Dutch defence minister, Kajsa Ollongren, stated: “Our critical undersea infrastructure could increasingly become a target. We have witnessed examples in recent months. For example, the Russian ships caught mapping wind farms in the North Sea.

“At the national and international level we must step up our efforts, together with industry and other armed forces, in order to better protect our cables, pipelines and wind farms. It is vitally important that we, as northern European countries, have made these arrangements.”

This co-operation follows attempts to protect Europe’s land-based infrastructure. In March this year, an EU-Nato task force convened for the first time to share best practices, situational awareness, and develop principles to improve infrastructure resilience. The Task Force focuses on four sectors: energy, transport, digital infrastructure, and space.

Now that infrastructure at sea – from undersea cables, pipelines and wind farms – are under threat from Russian sabotage, efforts will be made to implement counter measures.

GlobalData intelligence tells us that sonar technologies will dominate the underwater warefare market between 2022-2032, which accounts for 58.8%. The analytics company expects the UK alone to spend $90.4bn in 2022, which is projected to grow to $158m by 2032.

As threats continue to persist to impede the western allies from functioning from to day to day then sonar will provide situational awareness beneath the surface.