The 2022 underwater sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea in 2022 has outlined the critical juncture states like Australia now face in the development of seabed warfare capabilities and the protection of seabed critical infrastructure.
Adversaries are actively building autonomous uncrewed, underwater vehicles (UUVs) and other artificial enabled-platforms to bolster maritime offensive and defensive capabilities. UUVs are considered ‘game changers’ due to their low cost, extended range and their ability to cover an array of mission briefs.
Australia is particularly vulnerable to the threat of UUVs. Maritime trade, for instance, accounts for 99 percent of the country’s total trade volume, with two-thirds of exports traversing the South China Sea. Just-in-time supply chain processes coupled with poor strategic resilience has created maritime bottlenecks that have, until now, been considered acceptable risks. What we are also seeing is the increased technical capabilities development of UUVs, UUVs is five or ten years time will be very different to current UUVs.
This report examines the future security threats posed to Australian maritime trade by autonomous submersible weapons systems. Supported by the Department of Defence’s Strategic Policy Grants Program, investigators from RMIT University’s Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation (CCSRI), Charles Darwin University and WiseLaw conducted an impact analysis examining the likelihood, impact, and mitigation steps related to autonomous submersible weapon systems scenarios. In doing so, researchers consulted 50 stakeholders across government, industry, and academia, to validate the findings into current UUV development, vulnerabilities in Australian critical maritime infrastructure, and risk management practices.
The report identifies a number of challenges that Australia faces in mitigating the UUV threat, including:
The report makes a number of recommendations to address these challenges, including:
The time available for Australia to address the emerging UUV threat is rapidly shrinking. It is important that the Australian government and Defence consider taking action to mitigate these threats and protect Australia's maritime trade and security.
The Strategic Policy Grants Program run by the Department of Defence is an open and competitive mechanism for Defence to support independent research, events and activities. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian Government or Defence.
Acknowledgement of Country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.
Acknowledgement of Country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.