Defense wants a permanent role in the protection of infrastructure in the North Sea. It’s about better detecting and deterring threats. The cabinet is investigating the possibilities. This is what Minister Kajsa Ollongren and State Secretary Christoph van der Maat wrote to the House today.
For several years now, the government has recognized the threat of sabotage to vital infrastructure at sea. Think of (internet) cables, pipelines and wind farms. The submarine explosions at the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year clearly exposed that vulnerability.
The armed forces are currently investing in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capacity. This means that threats against offshore and submarine infrastructure can be detected in good time. This requires good cooperation with, among others, the private sector, which owns much of this infrastructure. The Ministry of Defense will also be renewing a lot of equipment in the coming years. Think of new submarines, anti-submarine warfare frigates and mine countermeasures vessels. From the latter, underwater drones and unmanned helicopters can be used to detect and defuse explosives.
Defense is also strengthening maritime intelligence and replacing 10 auxiliary vessels, including 2 hydrographic survey vessels. The hydrographic vessels structurally map the seabed.
With the new permanent task, the Ministry of Defense wants to contribute to detecting, monitoring and providing early warnings of possible threats within the Dutch economic zone. The Defense organization can also be given the formal task of providing permanent support to non-NATO units in the North Sea, in cooperation with NATO allies.
The measures mentioned are in addition to the contribution that Defense is already making under the new interdepartmental strategy for the protection of the North Sea infrastructure. Naval vessels support the Coastguard by mapping shipping and objects using image construction. The navy also escorts Russian ships through the so-called Dutch Exclusive Economic Zone. This was recently the case when a Russian ship had the intention of mapping a wind farm. The Ministry of Defense also offers civil authorities a helping hand in the event of incidents in the North Sea.
International defense cooperation is essential to increase the resilience of vital infrastructure. This is done with North Sea neighboring countries and within the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) partnership. In June, this subject is high on the agenda at a ministerial meeting of the JEF in the Netherlands. The EU and NATO are also joining forces in this area. For example, with the recent establishment of a task group to strengthen the resilience of vital infrastructure.