Royal Navy to Join International Taskforce Protecting Undersea Cables From Hostile Powers

The Royal Navy is to send seven ships to join an international taskforce that will patrol the seas to make sure undersea cables are not being sabotaged.
Royal Navy to Join International Taskforce Protecting Undersea Cables From Hostile Powers
HMS Richmond returns after a historic global deployment to Plymouth, England, on Sept. 12, 2021. (Ministry of Defence)
Chris Summers

Seven Royal Navy ships are being sent to join an international taskforce to protect undersea cables, following an agreement by 10 nations.

Britain, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway make up the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) and they will be patrolling an area between the English Channel and the Baltic Sea.

Britain is sending two Royal Navy frigates, including HMS Richmond, two offshore patrol vessels and mine countermeasures vessels as well as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship, supported by an RAF P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

The JEF taskforce will set sail next week after defence ministers from all 10 nations met on Tuesday and agreed to activate a protocol mobilising military assets, known as a JEF Response Option.

After the agreement was signed, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said, “This historic and unprecedented agreement will see a Royal Navy task force of seven ships, supported by the RAF, join allies from across northern Europe as part of a joint operation to defend our shared critical infrastructure against potential threats.”

‘Display of Unshakeable Unity’

He said, “The UK and our JEF partners will do whatever it takes to defend our mutual areas of interest, and today’s display of unshakeable unity sends a powerful message of deterrence that we stand ready to meet any potential threat with force.”

“Together, we stand firmly in support of peace, security, and a steadfast resolve to uphold the rules-based international order,” added Mr. Shapps, who took over from Ben Wallace as defence secretary in August.

Last year Mr. Wallace said the government would build two purpose-built naval ships to protect vital underwater cables which could be attacked by Russia or other hostile foreign powers.

Since the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic in September 2022, there has been rising concern among European nations about critical underwater infrastructure.

The JEF taskforce is designed to show hostile nations of the power of deterrent patrols and will “deepen surveillance around offshore assets and share intelligence” in the High North, North Atlantic, and Baltic Sea region.

The patrols will pick up from NATO’s enhanced vigilance activity operation, which took place in the Baltic Sea earlier this month.

Russia has denied its involvement in undersea sabotage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said claims the leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines were because of Russian sabotage was “predictably stupid” but he said, “This looks like some kind of terrorist act, possibly at the state level.”

Russia shut down Nord Stream 1 in September 2022, citing a need for maintenance, and Nord Stream 2 was halted by Germany in February 2022, days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Last month Finland opened a sabotage investigation after a gas pipeline was attacked and President Sauli Niinisto said a communications cable had also been damaged.

In January 2022 the head of Britain’s armed forces, Adm. Sir Tony Radakin, said Russian submarines posed a major threat to underwater cables which transmit internet data globally.

Sir Tony, a former head of the Royal Navy, told The Times of London there had been a “phenomenal increase in Russian submarine and underwater activity” in the past 20 years.

The British contribution to the taskforce will be HMS Richmond, HMS Somerset, HMS Severn, HMS Tyne, HMS Cattistock, HMS Penzance, RFA Mounts Bay, and a P-8 maritime patrol aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth.

Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.