In today's energy landscape, the term 'security' often refers to ensuring a stable supply and recent events, such as Russia's use of gas supplies as a geopolitical weapon, have underlined the pressing need to secure our energy sources.
However, the announcement of a pact between Britain and the EU to defend and protect critical underwater infrastructure has given the concept of security a new dimension for the offshore industry.
As we transition to cleaner and greener energy, the number of pipelines and cables under our seas is set to increase significantly. The scale of planned offshore wind turbines in Scottish waters alone, driven by the INTOG and Scotwind seabed leasing rounds, is unprecedented. With this increase in offshore construction, the demand for power cables, transmission inter-connectors, and undersea internet infrastructure will grow, leading to a more congested and vulnerable seabed.
In light of these developments, our maritime and underwater marine environment will see more regulation and control, similar to our airspace. No-go areas will become as prevalent as no-fly zones, especially since the introduction of drones. Everything in and under the water will require identification and verification, necessitating greater control and monitoring.
The adoption of AI and machine learning will enhance underwater autonomy but also introduce new risks. Recognising the increasing threats to critical national infrastructure, the UK Ministry of Defence has committed to building the first of two dedicated subsea surveillance ships, bolstering our capabilities and security against threats posed now and in the future.
However, reports of Russian spy ships mapping wind farms and communication cables in the North Sea, along with other terrorist threats, highlight the need for more sophisticated underwater technology to protect our cables and pipelines.
The defence sector has an established supply chain and expertise in underwater operations and is well-positioned to contribute to addressing these challenges. But cross-sector collaboration is essential for advancing technology to counter underwater intelligence and data gathering threats. And the UK's underwater industry, with its extensive experience and technology developed in the North Sea oil and gas sector and now prevalent in offshore wind and other industries, possesses valuable capabilities sought-after by the defence sector.
These include diving, remotely operated vehicles, sensor technology, vision systems, surface radar, and underwater sonar. Collaborative efforts between the Global Underwater Hub, a strategic and intelligence-led organisation, championing the UK's underwater industry, and a wide range of defence stakeholders are underway to explore the application of advanced underwater technologies and innovation in maritime security operations.
By leveraging the expertise and technology of the underwater industry, we can accelerate the development of cutting-edge solutions to mitigate risks and safeguard our critical national infrastructure. This collaboration will not only enhance our ability to counter threats but also enhance the growth of the UK's underwater industry, enabling it to become a global leader in underwater security and defence.
As our reliance on undersea infrastructure grows, the need to protect and defend it becomes increasingly crucial. The UK's underwater industry is well-equipped to address these challenges. By fostering cross-sector collaboration and leveraging advanced technologies, we can ensure the security of our critical national infrastructure and propel the UK to the forefront of underwater security innovation.
Neil Gordon is CEO of Global Underwater Hub