A navigation system of Russian origin called Navi-Sailor 4100 has been installed on at least 100 vessels operated by Germany's military, including submarines, since 2005. Credit: Twitter.

In a report which will likely horrify its NATO allies, German daily Bild has revealed that German submarines are equipped with Russian navigation systems.

Not that they are bad nav-systems, but the obvious issue is that they could be sabotaged or manipulated by foreign intelligence agencies, especially Russia, which just happens to be enemy No. 1.

The news comes amid heightened friction between Russia and the West, over such issues as Crimea and Moscow’s treatment of opposition figures.

The Kremlin is also massing tanks, troops and helicopters at the Ukraine border, sparking alarm this week at the Pentagon.

Reacting to the report, an unnamed naval officer told 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, a company founded in St. Petersburg in 1990.

Security experts say German subs could be susceptible to cyber attacks because of their Russian-made navigation systems. Credit: DW.com.

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).

Transas also 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. Because of its close ties to the Russian security apparatus, this part of Transas is in the focus of Western intelligence services, according to security experts.

The Bild report claims that the system’s data encryption does not comply with military security standards, in an apparent reference to NATO, of which Germany is a member.

“During a worst-case cyberattack, navigation data could be hacked and the ship could fully lose operability,” Bild quoted an unnamed officer as saying.

The report also pointed out that Russia sometimes carries out naval maneuvers close to Germany’s Baltic Sea coastline.

Tobias Lindner, the top Bundestag representative for the opposition Greens on the German parliament’s defense committee, voiced alarm following Bild’s report. 

“The Bundeswehr must ensure that the navy’s navigation software does not represent a security leak. The ministry must quickly explain why software from a manufacturer in NATO countries is not being used,” 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 emails from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s parliamentary office.

Sources: Bild, Anadolu Agency, DW.com, UK Defence Journal