Sea Technology

NOV 2018

The industry's recognized authority for design, engineering and application of equipment and services in the global ocean community

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Page 49 of 52 November 2018 | ST 49 soap box Undersea Cables: A Defense Vulnerability—J.A. Runfola have been well over 400 interna- tional and domestic submarine ca- bles installed. Locations of commercial subsea cables and landing stations are pub- lic information. As technology and demand have increased, many of these systems are now, or will be, deactivated, upgraded or replaced with new systems with higher ca- pacity. Will damaging one cable cause a national or international commu- nication shutdown? The answer is no. Telecommunication system op- erators have multiple agreements in place for the rerouting of their traf- fic or spreading the traffic over oth- er systems. Will disrupting multiple cables at once cause such a shut- down? No, but the impact in terms of revenue, security and internet traffic could be severe. As a means of commercial pro- tection, international cables are buried on the continental shelf. Nominal cable burial is 1 m, and deeper burial is possible. Non-sab- otage causes for submarine cable damage are most often fishing, ship anchors and natural hazards. Of- ten the cable is only damaged, not completely severed, and an electric fault occurs. When a fault occurs, it is instantly recognized at the net- work operating center. This triggers multiple events, including notifica- tion to the maintenance operator, who then leaves port to initiate re- covery and repair. The deliberate damaging of one or a couple of submarine cables represents harassment. Vulnerable industries include offshore renewable energy and off- shore petrochemical when multiple platforms are tied into a single com- munication system. If one wished to cause substan- tial damage to submarine cables, how would one go about it? Sailing down the Atlantic dragging an an- chor, for example, would damage a cable but the distance between cables is significant. Attempting to damage cables in this manner would take too much time, and the culprit would be readily detected. Additionally, system operators have multiple tools to track a suspicious vessel and, as needed, pursue legal recourse within national waters. Transoceanic cables carry dead- ly high voltage, so sending down a diver to cut a cable is unlikely be- cause of danger to a diver's life. Explosives are also not practical to use on a single cable. The most likely potential security threat is at the landing sites. Com- mercial operators land multiple ca- bles in one location, and multiple landing sites are typically not far apart. Island nations are the most vul- nerable because their coastlines are relatively small, with landing sta- tions close to each other. If a bot- tleneck occurs, this could create failure in multiple cables that could affect domestic and international communication. These commercial systems are national assets and require protec- tion. Right now, in the U.S., there is no certainty as to whether they are viewed as warranting military pro- tection or government surveillance. Commercial companies have limitations as to the level of secu- rity they provide, as does the gov- ernment. However, the government has more sophisticated tools. For instance, when a ship lingers in an area over a cable system, a warn- ing vessel can be used to monitor the lingering ship's activities. Air re- connaissance and undersea surveil- lance systems are other methods. We need to know that undersea cable vulnerability is not being ig- nored by governments or by the sys- tems' owners. The United States has a large de- fense budget. It seems reasonable for some of this funding to be allo- cated to address this critical vulner- ability. ST J. A. (Jack) Run- fola is president of R&R System Solutions. He has managed inter- nal operations, business devel- opment, projects, contract negoti- ations and manufacturing operations for domestic and international compa- nies. His ongoing industry experience includes submarine cable systems for global telecommunication companies, the offshore petrochemical industry and the U.S. Department of Defense. A ccording to the Public-Private Analytic Exchange Program, "Creating economic havoc, politi- cal discourse and other geopolitical instability can occur with the simple cut of a subsea cable. Coordinated cuts of multiple cables executed in a strategic manner could bring a country or region to a standstill." In 2017, the Public-Private Ana- lytic Exchange Program published a collaborative effort titled "Threats to Undersea Cable Communications." As someone whose career has been involved with the submarine cable industry on both the military and commercial side, I consider this a pertinent and timely study. What is the medium that carries the internet, financial transactions, international communications, so- cial media, news, etc. from conti- nent to continent? It is submarine communication cables. Most peo- ple do not think about the impor- tance of these cable systems, but ignoring them is a potential security threat. In 2005, R&R System Solutions was asked to address a U.S. Home- land Security Conference on sub- marine cable security. We discussed the vulnerability of cables and land- ing stations. Since that time, there have been multiple articles and studies focused on the vulnerabili- ty of submarine telecommunication cables. These communication links are critical. Since the 1980s, there

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