Submarine Pipelines for Military Usage

December 14, 2020

The beginning of the operation of the pipeline Nord Stream-1 at the end of 2012 became a powerful driving force for the disrupting of the strategic balance in Europe. This project has weakened the constraining mechanisms of dependence of the Russian transit on the Ukrainian gas transportation system and has tied the essential part of the European elites with the interests of the Kremlin by the economics chains. It laid the stable foundation for Russia to provoke the war against Ukraine at the beginning of 2014. The aim of the project Nord Stream-2 lies in even greater balance disrupting of the forces in Europe and exacerbation of the discord inside NATO.

There is not any commercial sense in this project. Russia has already spent over $30 billiard on it, including the construction of the new gas transportation infrastructure from Western Siberia. According to forecasts, Gasprom is expected to have losses in sales of 1000 cubic meters of gas for over $6.

The question arises as for the appropriateness of such colossal investments, which will generate such long-term losses. The answer to this question most likely lies in the military-political plane.

The evolution of the military systems for monitoring of the sea activities

The gradual equipping of the navy with steam engines, rifled grenades, armor and with basic radio communications certainly has changed the war-fighting strategy at sea that used to be familiar in ХІХ century [1]

The practice of the radio signal interception was first used by the British Navy in 190, when performing maneuvers in the Baltic Sea. Moreover, wireless telegraph stations, which were manufactured in Germany and France [2], became widely used. Such equipment was manufactured by the author of the invention, Olexandr Popov in his own workshop. In 1904, he claimed that due to the properties of the wireless telegraph, it was impossible to protect yourself against interception on the air by third parties. The first combat employment of the radio interception and decoding took place during the Russia-Japan War.

Beginning in 1907, Germany and the Russian Empire began a kind of competition, in order to deploy coastal monitoring and communication systems, equipped with radio transmitting and receiving stations. A year later, 8 stations of the above mentioned type, were built on the Black Sea coast, in particular, near such modern Ukrainian cities as Sevastopil, Odesa, Sudak, Kerch.

Before the First World War, Germany actively used 12 ship and coast radio stations. In 1912–1914, this actually resulted in the deployment of the real “air war” in the Baltic Sea between Germany and the Russian Empire, which lied in the high-speed data acquisition and application of the radio interference to a potential enemy.

With the outbreak of the World War I, the monitoring of the activities at sea was coordinated through the reconnaissance unit of the Navy Headquarters, which had communication with the ships on duty and communication with special purpose radio centers[3], which received and processed the data from naval radio compass stations[4] and radio interception stations.

For two decades after 1918, the naval radio communication system was actively developing in the maritime countries of the world[5]. Before the World War II, special purpose radio centers were added to the armory [6]. Among the leaders of the instruments making were the United States, Germany and Italy[7].

The system of monitoring of the activities at sea[8] during the Second World War coordinated[9] the actions of the naval units as for the disposal of the enemy’s transport and combat forces by clarifying their coordinates.

After the World War II had finished, a long period of so-called “cold war” between the United Stated and the USSR began. That period was distinctive for the competition between two states to increase in combat capabilities of the naval forces, and, in particular, the submarine fleet. Hence, the Americans began to deploy the frontiers system[10] based on the concept of “barrier operations[11], which were to become the barrier for movement of the Soviet submarines[12]. Beginning in the1960s, the United Stated of America began deploying the hydrophone antennas on the ocean bed and data centers to analyze the information, collected from these devices within the framework SOSUS(Sound Surveillance System)[13] in order to increase the effectiveness of their strategy. This system allowed to identify the submarines within several hundred nautical miles[14], by means of determining the coordinates of the noise source, which was specific for the propellers and other mechanisms of the vessel[15]. The disadvantage of such system is low efficiency, caused by the analysis of acoustic data bulk, selection of the potential noise and their subsequent comparison with the library of “the noise portraits” of the submarine fleet of the world.

Further development of the ship construction allowed the world countries, that operate the nuclear submarines, to significantly reduce the volume of the submarine fleet[16], which reduced the efficiency of the American SOSUS system.

This provided the impetus for the development of the special vessels, so calledinstrumentation ships[17], which together with submarine sound receiver and radio radars of the Air Force effectively solved the problem of monitoring activities at sea[18].

Apart from this, the world history of the application of the monitoring activities at the sea, knows the examples of the military operations with listening to the submarine cables of the communication lines involving small submarines and submersible vessels[19]. The satellites managed to resist such actions[20]

Distinctive features of the telemechanics of the underwater pipelines and their hidden potential

Safe operation of the underwater pipelines is possible only under the condition that there is an operational control over the technical condition of the infrastructure object. Such tasks are solved by means of the despatcher receiving the data through the engineering circuits from special sensors, which are installed with a certain pitch along the entire length of the pipeline.

The existing practice of the underwater pipelines construction indicates that the use of the gas pressure and temperature sensors, as well as devices for the monitoring the linear deformations of the pipe body.

Moreover, the devices for monitoring the linear deformations of the pipe body[21] could also be used to arrange the observations of the changes in the sea level fluctuations (waves) and changes in the characteristics of the underwater current by analyzing the magnitude of the water pressure ripples to the bottom.[22]

It is fair to note here, that during the navigation of the vessel, there is an oscillation of the waves (for submarines — the change of the underwater current characteristics), the level of which depends on the design features and the mass of the ship. If the enemies managed to reduce the efficiency of the American SOSUS system by reducing the volume of the submarine’s way, then to level the effect of the dimensions of the vessel on the magnitude of the oscillations of the waves or the flow of the underwater current will be impossible, in fact, at least for the next two decades.

Let’s imagine now, that the transcontinental underwater pipelines are the modern prototype of the frontiers that were built by the USA in the middle of the last century, and the dispatch control centers — are the analogues of the prewar special purpose radio centers, and the function of the hydrophone antennas is performed by conventional linear deformation sensors mounted on the body of the pipe with the pitch of 20 km.

The conclusions are obvious. The telemechanics of the underwater pipelines could potentially be a part of the military system for the monitoring activities at sea. Thus, there are reasonable grounds for amending the Convention on the High Seas of 1658, by excluding the mention about the freedom to lay pipelines.

[1] At the end of the XVIII century, there were special units in navy of the developed countries, which studied the fleet of the potential forces enemies through foreign publications.

[2] “Telefunken” and “Ducrete” brands.

[3]There was a group of decipherers and crypto-analysts.

[4] Pioneer naval radio direction finder consisted of an umbrella type antenna, that contained 32 radii and was guided in the field by a compass.

[5] The system combined long-wave and short and short-wave radio stations, as well as radio receivers of different modifications. For instance, in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic such systems were called “Blokada-1, 2”.

[6] For instance, the ship radio station “Gradus-K” (Soviet-made) with circular rotation frame, allowed to take a direction-finding bearing in the wave range of 400–4000 m with accuracy of 1.5 degrees.

[7] The most effective radio receiver were considered to be “Hammerlund” (the USA), “Thorne” (Germany), “Ansaldo” (Italy).

[8] The combat units of the Black Sea fleet received the information about the movement of the enemy forces (the armed forces of Germany, Romania, Turkey) form four direction finding points, located near the cities of Ismail, Ochakiv, Sevastopil and Novorossiisk.

[9] In total, during World War II, 51 thousand switches about the movement of the ships, aircrafts, submarines and transport vessels were transmitted, for instance, by Soviet maritime radio reconnaissance units.

[10] In the Atlantic such boundary was called “GIUK” and was located on the Greenland-Iceland-Great Britain axis. In the Pacific Ocean, a boundary was deployed along the axis of the Korea Strait — the Kuril Islands — the Aleutian Islands.

[11] The essence of this approach is to organize long-term search operations of the enemy forces on the borders of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans

[12] NATO naval forces guarded such boundaries using a submarine armada and tried to create a barrier at the entrance of the Atlantic for the Soviet Navy.

[13] This system includes several dozen sonar antennas, which are located at the bottom of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as shore stations in the United Stated, Canada, the Great Britain, Norway, Spain.

[14] For example, on May, 24th, 1968, the US nuclear submarine “Scorpio” of “Skipjack” type, sank in the Atlantic Ocean. The noise, characteristic of this tragedy was recorded by the SOSUS units at the distance of 500 nautical miles.

[15] Each type of a submarine has its own “noise portrait” due to its unique design features.

[16] The patrolling course was also changed by increasing the range of the ballistic missiles.

[17] For example, the reconnaissance ship “Marietta” of the Norwegian Navy and the floating control and measuring complex “Arthur Vandenberg” and “Observation Island” of the US Navy.

[18] For example, “Operation Send Dollar” — to determine the coordinates of the falls of the Soviet ballistic missiles fired from nuclear submarines.

[19] For example, in 1978, the Soviet submarine of “Delta” type, equipped with ballistic missiles) launched an expedition to the Barents Sea during which it ran the operation on the installation of the recording device on the U.S Navy communication cable.

[20] In 1981, the US Navy determined the coordinates of the recording device (installed by USSR in 1978) by means of analyzing the movements of the enemy naval auxiliary vessels.

[21] It is possible to perform systematic measurements of the wave surface elevation (or changes of the characteristics of the underwater current) by installing the bottom pressure recorders, which can be made in the stainless steel housing and have a cylindrical shape. The Quartz resonators, which have low temperature dependence and high accuracy, can be used to convert the primary physical quantities, which allow to ensure the error 0.1% of the range.

[22] Similar systems are used to monitor the safe operation of the nuclear power plants, drilling platforms and other strategic facilities that could potentially be damaged by the high sea waves.

Maksym Bielawski

Leading Expert, Energy Programmes

Born in 1986 in Zhytomyr oblast


Zhytomyr State Technological University (2008)

Ph.D in Technical Science (2010)

Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University of Oil and Gas (2012)

Author of 17 patents and 100 scientific works

Work Experience:

2008 – 2011 — Operator of Gas Infrastructure Units, Controller of Gas Transmission System in Rivne Division of PJSC "Ukrtransgas"

2011 – 2017 — Leading Engineer, Deputy Head of Press-Service, Head of Public Relation Department of PJSC "Ukrtransgas"

2017 – 2018 — HR Director of PJSC "Maine Gas Pipelines of Ukraine", Advisor to the Minister of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine

2021 — Director of Integrated Communications of NJSC "Naftogaz of Ukraine"