DEFENCE: A new Royal Navy surveillance ship is to be built to protect “critical” undersea cables

Defence MInister Ben Wallace on a visit to Faslane with Prime Minister Boris Johnston.

By Rory Murphy

A new Royal Navy surveillance ship is to be built to protect “critical” undersea cables – and it is almost certain to be based at HM Naval Base Clyde between Faslane and Coulport.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned “the lights could go out” if national infrastructure was lost, and the cables were “incredibly important”.

He also told the BBC’s Andrew Marr this morning that Russia had “taken a deep interest” in the cables and the UK would be “deeply exposed” without further measures.

It comes ahead of tomorrow’s (Monday’s) publication of the defence command paper.

The document will give more detail for the armed forces on the conclusions of the integrated review of the UK’s foreign and defence policies.

But some parts were already announced this week, including the lifting of the cap on the number of nuclear warheads the UK holds in its stockpile.

The government had previously committed to reducing the level to a maximum of 180 by the middle of the 2020s, but the move would allow the number to reach 260.

Mr Wallace said it would ensure the country’s nuclear deterrent was “credible”, and would still be lower than other nations – pointing to France, which has 300.

But Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the proposal had “baffled” opposition parties and they would not support it until the measure had been justified by the government.

‘Risk of sabotage’

Hundreds of thousands of miles of undersea cables circle the globe, providing internet and communications links between nations and continents.

The Ministry of Defence said they are “vital to the global economy and communications between governments” and are at “risk of sabotage” due to “submarine warfare”.

The new Multi Role Ocean Surveillance ship will be fitted “with advanced sensors and will carry a number of remotely operated and autonomous undersea drones which will collect data”.

The vessel, staffed by 15 people and due to come into service in 2024, will carry out operations in both UK and international waters.

The MoD added it will also “be able to support with other defence tasks, including exercises and operations in the Arctic which will become an increasingly contested area”.

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