Ben Wallace has announced the Government has committed to “two specialist ships” with the capability to patrol and protect underwater infrastructure from Russia.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, the Defence Secretary told members the “mysterious” damage inflicted to the Nord Stream pipelines this week should be a reminder of how “fragile” the UK economy and infrastructure are in the face of “hybrid attacks”.
Mr Wallace, who spoke from the main stage to an almost empty room, warned that Russia makes “no secret” of its ability to target underwater infrastructure.
He said: “This week we saw the mysterious damage inflicted to the Nord Stream pipelines. And it should remind us of how fragile our economy and infrastructure is to such hybrid attacks.
“Our intent is to protect them. Our internet and energy are highly reliant on pipelines and cables. Russia makes no secret of its ability to target such infrastructure.
“So for that reason, I can announce we recently committed to two specialist ships with the capability to keep our cables and pipelines safe.
“The first multi-role survey ship for seabed warfare will be purchased by the end of this year, fitted out here in the UK and then operational before the end of next year.
“The second ship will be built in the UK and we will plan to make sure it covers all our vulnerabilities.”
In his speech to the conference, Mr Wallace also praised Conservative former prime minister Boris Johnson for recognising that “we needed to invest in our armed forces” and Liz Truss for going “even further” and doing “what we needed to finish the job”.
“The Prime Minister’s pledge to invest 3% of GDP by 2030 is what we needed to keep this country and our allies safe,” he said.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Wallace challenged Sir Keir Starmer to “match” Ms Truss’s pledge, as he compared the Labour leader to Captain Mainwaring from BBC sitcom Dad’s Army.
“Conference, for those who think that the solution is to turn to Labour, however, I would say that now is not the time to deploy Captain Mainwaring and his platoon to help with our nation’s defence,” Mr Wallace said.
“You know, Mr Starmer, investing in defence and supporting our troops requires a lot more than waving the Union Jack. You have to actually fund them. You have to actually recognise that as threat changes so must the investment.
“In the world we live in today, there’s no place for Labour’s Home Guard amateurs. So, Mr Starmer, will you match the Prime Minister’s pledge of 3% of GDP by 2030? Will you put your money where your mouth is?”