Russia is developing a nuclear-powered missile that can fly around the Earth for years on end ready to strike at any moment, Britain's chief of defence intelligence has warned.
Jim Hockenhull said Russia was "pushing the boundaries of science and international treaties" in developing novel weapons as he outlined the threats upon which the British government's upcoming defence review will be based. In the first ever media briefing in the Five-Eyes intelligence hub at RAF Wyton, Cambs, he said: "Moscow is testing a sub-sonic nuclear-powered cruise missile system which has global reach and would allow attack from unexpected directions." Given its nuclear power source, the missile would provide "a near-indefinite loiter time".
Hockenhull highlighted Russia's major investment in submarines and deep ocean capabilities such as "an unmanned underwater vehicle capable of delivering a nuclear payload to coastal targets or even carrier groups at sea", and an ability to target undersea internet cables, as reported in The Telegraph.
He also warned that China posed "the greatest threat to world order" and singled out Iran and North Korea as "regional threats" in need of constant monitoring as "their nuclear programmes threaten global stability".
Hockenhull said Russia's capabilities allow it "to hold the UK and its allies' civilian and military infrastructure at risk of direct attack with conventional explosives and nuclear weapons, limiting options or raising the stakes during times of crisis." Describing how Vladimir Putin's armed forces had nothing like the scale of the Cold War, he said Russia had "traded mass for tempo". "They have looked hard at the West to see where best to place their investments to give us the most challenges," he said.
The British Ministry of Defence's Defence Intelligence department comprises several thousand military and civilian personnel, including from Britain's intelligence agencies. It works closely with allies and analyses sources of intelligence, including from satellites, radar and spies.
Hockenhull said the span of activity ranged "from space to the deep oceans, physical, virtual and cognitive" and sought to make better use of publicly-available information, including social media.
The RAF Wyton hub, in the Pathfinder building, is unique in Nato, housing 700 analysts from the Five-Eyes intelligence group of Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Hockenhull said the role of Defence Intelligence was to identify adversary vulnerabilities and seek to exploit them.
He said the nexus of hostile states, violent extremist groups and serious and organised crime was "particularly worrying" and designed to "exploit our seams and vulnerabilities".
Fake news and the use of proxies and deniable paramilitary forces, "however thin the veneer", rendered the previous distinction of threats as "no longer appropriate," he said.
Echoing comments by Ben Wallace, the British Defence Secretary, Hockenhull said Russia's GRU intelligence branch was particularly active in trying to destabilise foreign states. It was responsible for launching cyber attacks against the World Anti Doping Agency and the US Democratic National Committee in 2016, he said, and for attacking Ukraine's financial and energy sectors and the Kyiv metro a year later.
The GRU also sought to disrupt the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2018, after the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
Although Hockenhull said Russia posed the greatest "geopolitical threat to European security", he reserved particular warning for an "increasingly authoritarian and assertive" China.
"It poses the greatest threat to world order, seeking to impose Chinese standards and norms and using its economic power to influence and subvert, backed up by massive investment in modernising its armed forces," he said.