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Review: War’s Changing Climate, Seabed to Stars, Andrew Badger (8/6/23)

The CCW Emerging Threats group convened on June 8, 2023, to discuss the week’s theme, “Changing Climate of War, From Seabed to the Stars.” The group was fortunate to receive expert talks from group research associate Andrew Badger and Chris Lade, former Royal Navy and seabed expert at Saab.

The Seabed as a Domain

Historically, some level of seabed warfare has been present, such as in WWI; however, seabed capabilities have grown significantly with emergence of new technologies. In the modern era, arguably, there are three new frontiers for war: space, cyber and seabed. Thursday’s talk focused on seabeds which, although inherently difficult to control (due to the nature of hydrology and the difficulty in surveillance), are extremely important as most digital data travels via undersea cables. The session noted that the subsea domain sees strong interplay between public and private sectors due to the control over undersea cables and resources, thus creating complicated relationships in potential warfare.

Country Competition, Cable Warfare

Attacks have been seen in which key wires were severed, and France was the first and one of few countries to release a strong concept of the domain. Technology currently favors the offensive as it is difficult to identify attacks. Many feel that the best strategies for defense will arise in the form of multi-domain approaches (such as satellites and submarines to identify and destroy potential threats). Russia in particular, are thought to possess strong capabilities with submarines that can dive to great depths and possesses deep-sea capabilities.

Subsea Defense, Characterizing Terrain

The group asked several valuable questions providing further insight into the topic. Key takeaways were that much existing technology can reach depths of three to four thousand meters, which accounts for 85% of the subsea seabed; therefore, potentially, the focus around reaching 6,000-metre depths is not as essential to strategy and tactics. However, significant seabed warfare may escalate unpredictably with different countries’ emphases on different domains. With a lack of international law around cables, as well as the increasing necessity for minerals found through deep-sea mining, moving forwards, we could expect to see a rise in defensive technology.

Looking Ahead

Recommended books mentioned during the discussion include “2034” and “Ghost Fleet.” For, those interested in attending the group’s next discussion, there is a session scheduled for June 15th led by Caroline Baylon on Ukraine’s nuclear and biological risks online.

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