Move to counter China: US revives Cold War submarine spy program
On a windswept island 50 miles north of Seattle sits a US Navy monitoring station. For years, it was kept busy tracking whale movements and measuring rising sea temperatures. Last October, the Navy gave the unit a new name that better reflects its current mission: Theater Undersea Surveillance Command.
The renaming of the spy station at the Whidbey Island naval base is a nod to a much larger US military project, according to three people with direct knowledge of the plans: conducting the biggest reconstruction of America's anti-submarine spy program since the end of the Cold War.
The revival of the multibillion-dollar effort, known as the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS), comes as China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan, heightening concerns about a potential conflict over the democratically ruled territory, which Beijing wants brought under its control.
The IUSS revamp project has not previously been reported. It involves modernizing America's existing network of underwater acoustic spy cables and retrofitting a fleet of surveillance ships with cutting-edge sensors and subsea microphones, moves aimed at boosting the military's ability to spy on its foes.
The United States has agreed to sell Australia similar technology to help bolster allied defenses in the Pacific region.
The most innovative change in the Navy's ocean reconnaissance system is an investment in new technologies to miniaturize and globalize traditional maritime surveillance tools.
The original network of fixed spy cables, which lie in secret locations on the ocean floor, was designed to spy on Soviet submarines seven decades ago, the three people said.
The Navy's plan includes deploying a fleet of unmanned sea drones to listen for enemy craft; placing portable "underwater satellite" sensors on the seafloor to scan for submarines; using satellites to locate ships by tracking their radio frequencies; and utilizing artificial intelligence software to analyze maritime spy data in a fraction of the time human analysts would usually take.