The exercises, involving fourteen NATO members and Sweden, are taking place off the coast of Portugal over a period of 12 days. The goal is to evaluate the real-time capabilities of these drones in sending deterrence signals to potential adversaries, such as Russia. Lt. Gen. Hans-Werner Wiermann, head of NATO's cell for protecting undersea infrastructure, emphasized the importance of these exercises in a report from Bloomberg.
The exercises, known as Dynamic Messenger 23 and Robotic Experimentation and Prototyping with Maritime Unmanned Systems (REPMUS 23), aim to integrate maritime unmanned systems into NATO's operations and test new technologies that are currently in development. This initiative comes in response to the intentional bombings of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea, which occurred approximately one year ago.
These attacks highlighted NATO's challenges in deterring and monitoring suspicious activity around critical underwater infrastructure. While suspicions have been raised regarding Russian involvement in the attacks, NATO has not officially attributed responsibility to any nation or organization.
Russia has denied any involvement in the blasts. However, recent reports of Russian spy ships operating near NATO infrastructure have raised concerns that Moscow may target NATO countries for supporting Ukraine in its defense against the ongoing Russian invasion. NATO is particularly concerned about underwater cables, which carry approximately $10 trillion worth of financial transactions daily and handle about 95% of global internet traffic. Additionally, two-thirds of the world's oil and gas are extracted or transported by sea, often through pipelines that span thousands of miles beneath the ocean's surface, making them difficult to monitor for potential threats.
During one exercise, NATO vessels successfully responded to a state-sponsored commercial vessel attempting to disrupt underwater network cables. This type of plot would typically be challenging to detect, but fiber-optic sensors on the cables were able to identify the enemy ship's attempt to delay an underwater drone. The information was then relayed to NATO's command and control chain, which confirmed the threat. In response, NATO deployed a fleet of aerial, surface, and underwater drones to intercept the threat and escort the suspicious vessel out of the area.
These training exercises follow the establishment of a new maritime command center in the United Kingdom earlier this year. The center focuses on defending underwater infrastructure, and NATO has agreed to enhance information sharing systems between alliance members and private sector partners to improve the detection and deterrence of infrastructure attacks.
Lt. Gen. Wiermann emphasized the importance of swift information exchange between relevant actors to detect suspicious behavior in real-time and respond promptly. The Nord Stream explosions prompted pipeline operators to conduct extensive scans of nearly 6,000 miles of pipelines, which proved costly. Avoiding such incidents in the future is a priority for NATO.