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Nato allies are also rushing to boost anti-submarine warfare capabilities and to develop advanced submarine-detecting planes.

Britain's top military commander also warned that Russia could imperil the cables that form the backbone of the modern global economy.

"You go off and you try to add expense for anything that we're doing, or you put things at risk that are of value to us, and submarines give them the capability to do it," a senior Nato official said of the Russian approach, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence assessments.

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Russian military leaders have acknowledged that the Kremlin is active undersea at levels not seen since the end of the Cold War, when Russia was forced to curtail its submarine program in the face of economic turmoil and disorganisation.Submarines are particularly potent war-fighting craft because they can generally only be heard, not seen, underwater.They can serve as a retaliatory strike force in case of nuclear war, threaten military resupply efforts and expand the range of conventional firepower available for use in lower-level conflicts.The privately owned lines, laid along some of the same corridors as the first transatlantic telegraph wire in 1858, carry nearly all of the communications on the internet, facilitating trillions of dollars of daily trade. If tapped, they could give Russia a valuable picture of the tide of the world's internet traffic."It's a pattern of activity, and it's a vulnerability," said British Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, in an interview.

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