German submarines are equipped with Russian navigation systems which could be sabotaged or manipulated by foreign intelligence agencies, according to local media.
Reacting to the report, an unnamed naval officer told German daily Bild, “Of course we’re concerned that our data will be tapped, for example by foreign intelligence services.”
In 2005, under then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, around 100 German navy ships were equipped with new navigation systems from Russian company Transas.
Later, the German government decided in favor of Transas and, according to Bild, installed the Navi Sailor 4100 (navigation device for position, speed, route) in the most modern German submarines U-35 (in operation since 2015) and U-36 ( since 2016).
The firm was founded in St. Petersburg in 1990 and is active in both the civil and military sectors: Transas equipped the Russian fleet with combat simulators and even got an award from Gen. Nikolai Makarov, chief of the Russian General Staff in 2007-2012.
In 2018 the company was bought by Finnish company Wartsila, but the armaments division remained in Russian hands.
Former Transas engineers are now developing combat drones for the Russian military. Due to its close ties to the Russian security apparatus, this part of Transas is the focus of Western intelligence services, according to security experts.
Last summer, German domestic intelligence agency BfV warned that the Russian systems would open up “attack vectors for espionage and sabotage by foreign states.”
In the event of a cyberattack, for example, navigation data could be tapped and manipulated, “in the worst case up to the complete loss of functionality” of the ship, it added.
A defense policy spokesman for the opposition Greens party expressed alarm over the report.
“The Bundeswehr [German armed forces] must ensure that the navy’s navigation software does not represent a security leak. The ministry must quickly explain why no software from a manufacturer in NATO countries is used,” Tobias Lindner said.
Germany has been the scene of repeated cyberattacks in recent years.
Berlin believes Russian intelligence was behind a 2015 hack in which an estimated 16 gigabytes of data, documents, and emails were siphoned off from the German parliament’s IT network, including thousands of emails from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s parliamentary office.
It was the largest cyber-hacking ever conducted out against the German parliament.
The report comes amid heightened friction between Russia and the West, over such issues as Crimea and Moscow’s treatment of opposition figures.