Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said undersea cables that transmit internet data are “the world’s real information system”, and added that any attempt to damage them could be considered an “act of war”.
Speaking to The Times in his first interview since assuming the role, Sir Tony – a former head of the Royal Navy – said there had been a “phenomenal increase in Russian submarine and underwater activity” over the past 20 years.
He said that meant Moscow could “put at risk and potentially exploit the world’s real information system, which is undersea cables that go all around the world”.
The Navy has been tracking Russian submarine activity, with a collision between the HMS Northumberland and a Russian sub sparking speculation about cable-mapping activity.
The collision in December 2020 was filmed by a documentary crew from Channel 5 who were working on a television series called Warship: Life At Sea.
He highlighted Russia’s hypersonic and long-range missile capability as a threat and Britain’s comparative capabilities as a weakness. “We haven’t (got them) and we must have,” he said.
Sir Tony also said he had briefed ministers on Britain’s “military choices” if Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine, but did not reveal any further information.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has previously said it would be “highly unlikely” the UK would send troops if an invasion occurred, while The Times reports cyber attacks “could be an option”.
Talks between Moscow, the US and Nato are scheduled for next week amid tensions sparked by a Russian military build-up on the Ukraine border, but Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg has said the alliance needs to prepare “for the possibility that diplomacy will fail”.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Friday called for Russia to end its “malign activity” towards Ukraine.