🔷 Under the Sea

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Credit: submarinecablemap.com

The Undersea Cable Cold War

DYK that upwards of 95 percent of internet traffic flows through a network comprised of 490+ undersea cables spanning a whopping 93 million miles?

In a world where information is like oxygen, these cables have immense strategic value—and military interest.

Messing with Cables

Back in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, they immediately started to lay an undersea cable to connect Crimea to Russia’s internet and cut it off from the western world. 

Last year, Taiwan suspected that Chinese ships cut internet cables going to some of its outlying islands.

This isn’t new though. The US has used cable-cutting tactics in its war strategies since the late 1890s (that’s not a typo). During the Spanish-American War, the US led cable-cutting missions to isolate Cuba and to sever communications between the Philippines and Hong Kong. By World War I, cable-cutting was part of everyone’s playbook.

Over the past several years, China and Russia have increased operations near sensitive undersea cables.

Thanks to their location, length, and size, these cables are highly vulnerable to malicious intent—and accidents.

Three of these sensitive fiber optic cables were recently damaged in the Red Sea, a result of the ongoing conflict in Yemen. The cables were damaged by an anchor from the cargo vessel Rubymar, which was struck by Houthi missiles and abandoned by its crew.  

Undersea cables aren’t just vulnerable to attack or damage—they can also be tapped and exploited.

During the Cold War, the US had an undersea Soviet wiretapping mission called Operation Ivy Bells that went undetected for a decade (until an NSA employee sold the secret to the Soviets).

Protect The Net

Various alliances have been formed to protect, monitor, and build new connections to maintain the flow of information.

The US, Japan, and Australia are jointly funding a 1,400-mile undersea cable to connect Micronesia, Nauru, and Kiribati to counter growing Chinese influence in the region. Similarly, the same group + India has a Quad partnership for improving Pacific cable connectivity and resilience.

Over in Europe, the UK and Norway are also increasing their cooperation to protect the infrastructure of undersea communication. France, Europe’s most connected country, is bolstering its underwater security efforts by investing in drones, robots, and sub-aquatic vessels. NATO, spooked by the Nord Stream pipeline attacks, now has an effort to coordinate collection activities for vulnerable undersea cables and pipes.

However, not all cables are government-owned. Key players like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are all building their own undersea cables. Today, these tech companies have stakes in roughly 10 percent of the world’s undersea network.

Now What

It seems like the best defense is a good offense—simply laying more cables to improve the network’s robustness and resilience.

What about space? Satellite-based broadband from Starlink, OneWeb, Kuiper, etc. sounds like promising alternatives to laying cables across the world. Still, the reality is they are built to offer services in places impractical for running cables. They are not structured to take over the global demands of cabled internet.

Check out this interactive map of all the world’s undersea cables to get a better idea.

To learn more about the rapidly evolving Cold War under the sea, here’s a good read (with graphics!)

In That Number


The UK will supply Ukraine with 10,000 drones this year to help fight Russia


Kleenex, the global brand synonymous with facial tissue, was initially developed to solve what military problem?

On the Radar

Palantir won the Army contract for the TITAN next-gen targeting system. The Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN) is a battlefield system that will aggregate data from space and terrestrial sensors for long-range precision targeting and other battlefield planning. The $178m contract is to build 10 prototypes, and if that goes well, full production in 2026 for 100-500 units.

  • The Merge’s Take: Stated another way, data analytics software maker Palantir won an Army program to build a truck-based mobile battle management system—one of the first-ever “software-primed” programs of record. Palantir’s sub-contractors include Northrop Grumman (systems integration), L3Harris (communications), Anduril Industries (hardware), and a few others. The next 24 months will be fun to watch—that’s quite a herd of cats to tend to.


A group of Ukrainian and American companies have launched the Military Innovation Technology Solutions (MITS) Program to develop Ukraine’s defense capabilities by investing in small tech companies with $200k investments, split evenly for investment in startups and expertise from American University Kyiv.

  • The Merge’s Take: There’s too little info on this to pass judgement, but on the surface, it seems more like a way for investors to spread bets across (very) early-stage defense tech and less about accelerating solutions to warfighters. The $100K startups would get just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the time to do the paperwork. We could be totally wrong though.


The Marine Corps is putting jamming pods on its MQ-9s and General Atomics received a $31m Navy contract to get started.

  • The Merge’s Take: The lack of any defensive measures is one of the reasons the Air Force MQ-9s keep getting shot down. Looks like the Marine Corps is taking that lesson and doing something about it, which is great to see from the crayon-eaters. And if you’re confused, yes, the Marine Corps has MQ-9 Reapers—they plan to operate 20 of them.


Rearming US Navy ships at sea is weird—and not a thing in most cases. Vertical Launching System (VLS) cells, the most capable part of a ship’s air-launched arsenal, currently have no way to be reloaded at sea.

  • The Merge’s Take: The VLS design was optimized for simplicity and capacity, not rearmament. This is a significant blind spot in a Navy built to project power across oceans. Where there’s a pain point there’s an opportunity. OBTW, China’s Navy likely has the same issue, but it’s much less a factor since they’re playing a home game.

They Said It
“Engineers working on manned aircraft, we hope over time can also come to work on unmanned aircraft. We still need engineering talent.”

— Army assistant secretary Doug Bush, responding to concerns that the recently-cancelled FARA helicopter program will impact the engineering field

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Kleenex originated from a demand for cotton alternatives to bandages during World War I. The solution did the job, but also turned out to be an effective filter for gas masks too.