The Russian invasion of the Ukraine has set off some alarms and has served to relaunch the arms industry. Many countries made the decision to increase their military budgets and improve their artillery. Drones, tanks, planes and air defense systems are being manufactured in droves for rearmament. But the race for war renewal is also taking place in a less visible place. At the bottom of the sea. And the United States is actively involved.
The US Navy is developing a new submarine Virginia classand the estimated budget for this ship, according to a report of the US Congress, is 5,100 million dollars (4,800 million euros). Almost a billion more than what submersibles in this category usually cost.
According to the portal ‘Naval News’, specialized in defense and naval technology, work is underway at the shipyard Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. Kevin Graney, the president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, shared a sketch of the design at the Connecticut Economic Summit in January 2022. But so far, logically, the details remain hidden.
The new US ship is estimated to be capable of carrying Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and special operations submersibles. could be the successor to USS Jimmy Carter —Seawolf class—, a nuclear-powered spy submarine that was launched in 2004 and that the United States uses to protect commercial and security interests at the bottom of the sea.
combat and espionage
Gas, oil and communications flow through pipelines and cables in the depths of the ocean, connecting one continent with another. They are hidden from view as a highway or border might be, and therefore more difficult to protect. They are valuable military targets because their attack, in addition to being relatively simple, can inflict heavy damage. This was the case with the Nord Stream gas pipeline, through which Russia supplied Eastern Europe. Multimillion-dollar losses and a reduction in Russian influence resulted from their sabotage. And it is still not known whose authorship it is. In the same way, the supply of other basic elements such as the Internet could be prevented, since more than 95% of Internet traffic travels through submarine cables.
And while the Virginia-class submarines are equipped for anti-submarine warfare, to combat surface ships, and to support special operations, part of their essential role is intelligence gathering. And the US experience of underwater espionage is not new. In the 1970s, during the Operation Ivy Bells, the NSA intercepted one of the Soviet communications networks that rested at the bottom of the sea, accessing privileged information that was transmitted from the bases of the Pacific Fleet in Kamchatka to Vladivostok. The Soviet Union only found out about it when Ronald Pelton, a spy within the US intelligence apparatus, tipped it off.
The struggle for control below the surface
In July 2022, NATO went on alert. The Russian navy had launched the Belgorod K-329, which at almost 200 meters in length, is considered the longest submarine in the world. It is the most advanced in the Russian fleet, an upgrade and expansion of the Oskar II class. And it is dangerous not only for being extremely stealthy and having the ability to go up to 120 days without returning to the surface, but also for what it carries in its bowels: the Poseidon, a twenty-meter nuclear torpedo classified as a “doomsday weapon.”
China has also made significant investments in its maritime fleet. A report by the US Congressional Research Service warns about the challenge posed by the military modernization of the Asian country, which since the mid-1990s has not stopped increasing its naval capacity. “This is the first challenge of its kind faced by the United States Navy since the Cold War” express the document. By the year 2030, China’s nuclear-powered attack submarine fleet is forecast to have grown by six units.
To contain China’s expansionism in Asian waters, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have created a trilateral security alliance that covers cybersecurity, space technology, artificial intelligence, and submarine development.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism