Underwater communication cables transport large amounts of sensitive information between countries. This fact converts these cables into a critical infrastructure that must be protected. Monitoring the underwater cable environment is rare and any intervention is usually driven by cable faults. In the last few years, several reports raised issues about possible future malicious attacks on such cables. The main objective of this operational research and analysis (ORA) paper is to present an overview of different commercial and already available marine sensor technologies (acoustic, optic, magnetic and oceanographic) that could be used for autonomous monitoring of the underwater cable environment. These sensors could be mounted on different autonomous platforms, such as unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). This paper analyses a multi-threat sabotage scenario where surveying a transatlantic cable of 13,000 km, (reaching water depths up to 4000 m) is necessary. The potential underwater threats identified for such a scenario are: divers, anchors, fishing trawls, submarines, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and AUVs. The paper discusses the capabilities of the identified sensors to detect such identified threats for the scenario under study. It also presents ideas on the construction of periodic and permanent surveillance networks. Research study and results are focused on providing useful information to decision-makers in charge of designing surveillance capabilities to secure underwater communication cables.
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