National Security and the maritime dimension of intelligence

(To Renato Scarfi)

National security is a complex and articulated concept, which must be seen on a global scale and both internally and externally. To effectively face the new threats, which have now become large, fluid and complex, it is increasingly necessary to receive the right information in a timely manner. This is, in fact, an unavoidable need for anyone involved in security and defense, from the surveillance of the possible adversary to the monitoring of geopolitical dynamics and area crises, from the understanding of social tensions to the developments of economies and international trade. This is what theintelligence, which has the task of collecting, analyzing and disseminating information and its own assessments in order to provide decision-makers with the cognitive tools to anticipate any changes in the situation, contributing to the safeguarding of national security and the prevention of destabilizing activities of any kind.

It is therefore a mission to which both the military instrument and the police forces must contribute in a collaborative manner, even if aimed at the “public” and different operators.

With regard, in particular, to the international situation, theintelligence military has always tried to ensure a complete, clear and timely information framework, especially on areas of tension and crisis, in order to better coordinate and strengthen intervention capacities to protect national prestige, security and interests.

In this context, given the geographical position of Italy (over 7.000 km of coastline) and its strong economic dependence on the sea, an area on which national merchant traffic mainly develops and where there are enormous energy resources, essential for economic survival. of the country, (v.articolo) the service of intelligence naval has always occupied a prominent place in the national hierarchy.

But this is not a characteristic of the Navy alone, given that navies from all over the world have always developed surprising and peculiar skills even in the delicate field ofintelligence. Skills that have always proved very useful for preventing or resolving conflicts and that have grown exponentially during the years of the so-called Cold War.

THEintelligence naval during the Cold War

The concept of "Cold War" was first used in public by Winston Churchill in March 1946 (see "speech on the iron curtain"), during a speech at Westminster College in Fulton (Missouri). This definition then went on to identify the period from the formal unconditional surrender of Japan (September 2, 1945) to the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR ), which took place on December 8, 1991. The Belaveža Agreement, which sanctioned the end of the Soviet system, was preceded by the fall of the Berlin Wall (October 3, 1990). the development of numerous crisis areas around the world and in the Euro-Mediterranean area, from the Berlin Wall to the Korean and Cuban crises, to the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, in response to the citizens' requests for greater freedom.

Whether for the fact that nuclear submarines, with their numerous embarked atomic warheads and hidden navigation capabilities, represented the real deterrent of that troubled period, or for an innate propensity for technological development both in the arms and electronics of surveillance systems the Marines, with their own underwater, naval and air vehicles, have represented a primary resource of intelligence, not only in favor of the country of origin but also for their respective allies.

As all sailors know well, for example, during a navigation it sometimes happens to meet another ship that travels a contrary route or, in any case, that brings it to approach (without danger) within reach. Most of the time this is an opportunity for the crews or at least those on guard on the bridge to exchange greetings. All the more true if the meeting is between two military units of allied and friendly countries. A relaxing tradition that was also observed between ships belonging to opposite sides during the period of the conflict between the Atlantic and Soviet blocs, being careful not to carry out maneuvers that could be interpreted as aggressive, in full compliance with the rules of engagement issued by the General Staff. .

A keen eye for detail, however, would have noticed that, at the same time as the staff who greeted with a friendly air from the bridge fins, somewhere else on the ship was busy photographing the other unit, trying to gather information about armament, detection sensors, telecommunication antennas, etc… with the aim of providing material to information services analysts. During the Cold War period, the encounter was never accidental.

In that particular period, therefore, precisely because of the peculiarities of the operating environment, the submarines, ships and aircraft of (or used by) the Navy were in the best position to provide evaluation elements to the information services on the Marines of the other side. This does not mean denying the contribution that the personnel of the other Armed Forces gave to safeguarding the security of the Western bloc. It simply means that the maritime dimension was, due to its profound global geopolitical and economic implications, the privileged theater of that confrontation, which kept the world in suspense at the danger of a nuclear holocaust.

Just think of the invaluable competition of the submarines which, being able to navigate in an occult way, had the opportunity to observe the opposing forces from extremely favorable positions, gathering information of inestimable value. Among these I remember the secret operations of the US submarine Halibut (Operation "Ivy Bell") which, under the waters of the Sea of ​​Okhotsk, managed to penetrate the Soviet defenses several times and record communications between the High Commands of the opposing side. Actions that have gone down in the history of underwater espionage.

The Marine and theintelligence today

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, many extreme pacifists wrongly thought that the gathering of information would be a bit "out of fashion", given the ongoing detente. But one of the oldest professions in the world has not suffered any slowdown since the old / new adversaries have been joined by many others, both states and non-state entities, favored by the easing of pressure from the two nuclear superpowers and the return of old religious, political, social, economic and ethnic rashes never really subsided. This allowed an expansion of the "... spaces for hostile maneuvers and instrumental insertions of various sign and matrix ..."1, rendering the service of intelligence even more relevant.

A clear sign that the intelligence-gathering game has never truly retired, in the North Atlantic as in the Mediterranean, as in the Pacific, is represented by the fact that, in November 2020, to remember a recent one, about 24 nautical miles (45 kilometers) about) from the Scottish coast, north of Aberdeen, spy satellites have reported the presence of two Russian ships of the "Vishnya" class (photo), and of a supply unit, probably the Sergey Osipov, "Boris Chilikin" class2. The "Vishnya" classes are large units intelligence (about 3.500 tons for over 90 meters in length) with 150 crew members. It is not clear what their mission was, but they were still in a militarily important sector, given the presence of important British installations (Navy and Air Force) near the coast. The North Atlantic has always been a strategic area, essentially the only outlet to the ocean for the Russian fleet of the north, (v.articolo) and the area where the two units sailed is a transit area for British nuclear submarines. According to some analysts, Moscow has recently intensified its activity in the region, returning to the levels of the Cold War.

In this context, the "old" ballistic submarines of the Cold War will be progressively replaced with other more modern giants, however capable of erasing all forms of life from vast areas. In the US, the "Ohio" class will be withdrawn starting from 2029, giving way to the "Columbia" class submarines, while the massive Russian "Typhoon" class submarines will give way to the "Borei" and "Delta IV" class submarines. At the same time, new submarines will be built designed mainly to search for the enemy ones, to acquire their position, to shade them, to steal their secrets and ... to try to render them harmless in case they become a threat. The new boats, such as the U212NFS (Near Future Submarine), will represent an evolution of the "classic" concept of submarine hunter, as they will also host equipment specifically dedicated to surveillance activities in the field of electronic emissions and communications and will also be able to communicate with the latest generation underwater drones , whose potential intelligence are constantly increasing.

The collection of information on the sea and from the sea, therefore, continues and includes an expansion of the tasks. To the "classic" ones related to the naval units and armaments of potential adversaries, there are also reconnaissance and surveillance tasks related to drug trafficking or illegal immigration, often carried out by modern slaveholders who exploit groups of desperate people (or criminals escaped from justice of the country of origin) for profit.

In this context, the Navy, both with submarines and air vehicles, continues to operate in the waters of the Mediterranean, providing its qualified contribution to the collection of information for evaluation by the operators of theintelligence .

To enhance the national intelligence gathering capacity, since last December the Government is also evaluating the purchase for the Air Force of eight other Gulfstream G-550 super-jets (photo) for theintelligence electronics, with the aim of controlling the skies of the Mediterranean. The intent would be to equip Italy with 10 aircraft (two are already supplied) with the most advanced systems on the planet, forming the largest fleet of electronic spy planes in Europe. As, however, authoritative sources of the Defense affirm, these are machines that have now reached the end of production and that do not foresee a concrete and significant return for the national industry. Moreover, it would seem that most of the new machines could not accommodate on board the electronic equipment necessary to carry out the assigned mission and that, therefore, would remain simple aircraft at rest in the hangars. An operation that closely resembles the infamous one A national, extremely expensive and never used.

Therefore, this activism regarding the acquisition of capabilities that are not at the top of the list of national needs appears to be hardly understandable, while other strategic sectors are instead in trouble, such as the transport component of the Air Force or the patrol component. maritime, formally assigned to the Air Force (which is responsible for the logistics chain) but operationally dependent on the Navy. A component now reduced to a minimum in terms of overall capacity, with aircraft that are not up to the required operational needs. The latter, in particular, if provided with Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) at the height of the assigned mission, with minimal additions / modifications of substantially negligible cost, it could also fulfill the mission for Italy intelligence of the Gulfstream G-550s in acquisition, being also able to identify, analyze and disturb any electronic impulse. In essence, it would involve installing additional components on board those MPAs for increase the existing capabilities to intercept any emission over a very large area, analyze it in real time with artificial intelligence and distribute the results to interested users.

I Maritime Patrol Aircaft, as part of the fulfillment of their natural missions under the Operational Control of the Navy, would thus become the flying hubs of a global surveillance network, positioned between the sea surface and geostationary satellites, capable of carrying out the entire spectrum of missions reconnaissance and surveillance and to exchange information directly with satellites, with air defense fighters and with ships (and fighters on board), since the crews for decades have been accustomed to working in that particular three-dimensional operating environment (above, on and below the sea ​​surface). One capacity intelligence enhanced that would complement the current capabilities of collection of information, surface reconnaissance and surveillance, anti-ship combat, underwater control, anti-submarine combat, anti-piracy surveillance, anti-drug, illegal immigration, search and rescue at sea (SAR), coordination and control of the Forces. All missions essential to national security that could be carried out with theuse of an effectively multi-role vehicle, the adequate aircraft for maritime patrol that the Navy has been asking the Defense for years, avoiding squandering large sums of money (we are talking about well over 5 billion euros) to expand a fleet of aircraft that could only fulfill the mission intelligence.

The Gulfstream G-550s, in essence, are aircraft which, while meeting the needs for which they are built, have capabilities also present on other more flexible aircraft in terms of operational use and, in times of extreme economic constraints, their acquisition. it does not appear cost-effective. A commitment that also binds the budget military even for many years to come. A choice which, in the opinion of many observers, has numerous weaknesses and which does not seem to be guided by the search for the optimization of available resources and maximum national (including industrial) benefit. As Gian Carlo Poddighe of the Geopolitics and Maritime Strategy Studies Center states, a choice that could have been better justifiable had it been invest the same amount for the acquisition, for example, of an adequate number of fully equipped multi-role MPAs, perhaps with the possibility of offset (set-up and maintenance in Italy, with related work and economic consequences) instead of spending a fortune to have eight single-role Gulfstream G-550s partially (or not at all) equipped.

We talked about connections with satellites for the collection of information for theintelligence. Technological development, in fact, today favors the collection of information also from space, through satellites ad-hoc which, by means of electronic or optoelectronic systems, make it possible to obtain photographs with a resolution unthinkable twenty years ago, or to control and “selectively” disturb the emissions on the opposing electromagnetic spectrum, from cell phones to radar. In addition, they have the ability to carry out targeted operations to combat terrorism, such as searching for the voice of a wanted individual through millions of telephone conversations and when they find it, locate their position and follow their movements.

In this perspective, the Navy project assumes enormous strategic value called "SIMONA" (Italian System put into orbit by NAve) which, as part of the National Military Research Plan (PNRM), aims to verify the feasibility of using Garibaldi ship (now at the end of its operational life) as a launching platform for vector missiles to send satellites and equipment into orbit. The initiative therefore represents an important step towards the exploration of innovative solutions to give our country an autonomous capacity to access space, also in the sector of satellites forintelligence¸ and an element of great interest also due to the positive effects in terms of progress of the country's industrial capabilities (v.articolo). A move that would enrich the skills intelligence national and would allow important and significant strategic, technological and economic repercussions for Italy, as well as enormously increasing our international prestige.


With the reforms of the Information Services of the last twenty years, efforts have been made to give greater impetus and coordination to the work of the various structures of intelligence in order to increase decision makers' effective understanding of the domestic and international situation in relation to complex problems related to national security.

The work of intelligence therefore, it represents an irreplaceable tool for the purpose of threat assessment. In this context, we are perfectly aware of the challenges we face, whether they are related to the increasingly fierce competition for the control of maritime trade routes or the supply of marine energy resources, from every aspect of the invisible war that sees us opposed to entities. non-state terrorists to the activities of piracy or drug and arms trafficking.

In this context, it appears absolutely indispensable proceed with rationality to the acquisition of the means and technology necessary to enable our services to intelligence to perform their role effectively. This is an objective of absolute strategic importance, without which the function of adequately and promptly informing the decision maker cannot be validly fulfilled.

The last thing we can afford today is to chase self-referential chimeras and disregard them strategic multi-role capabilities that would allow theintelligence military to operate.

Capabilities which, on the other hand, need to be protected and modernized so that theintelligence can maintain its indispensable role of protecting and informing, in support of national security in an era of continuous and varied danger of unprecedented severity.

1 Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Report on information security policy 2020

2 From the site

Photo: US Navy / web / Air Force / Navy