An SDV goes Gävle

So it seems that approximately once a year there is some kind of more serious unexplained underwater activity in Finnish or Swedish waters. On 29 June it was the port of Gävle’s turn to be at the centre of attention.

Following dredging works in the main sea lane leading into the port, a hydrographic survey was made. As is usually the case when measuring small areas where high precision is needed, a measuring frame was pulled under the water at the correct depth (for simplicity, think of a welded frame being pulled at a constant depth, indicating if it hits something). At the very inlet of the port this indicated some kind of “anomaly”, and it was decided to scan the plot with a multibeam sonar. The area was then scanned between 11:00 and noon, after which followed a lunch break during which the scans were studied closer. It was then that the crew thought that the shape looked “boat like”, and after lunch the area was rescanned around 13:00. The “anomaly” was still there, and the survey vessel ran a few laps around it. The vessel then went to get divers, and when the divers arrived around 14:00 the anomaly wasn’t visible on the multibeam sonar any longer.

The object is described as around 12 meters in length, and roughly 3 meters high.

Gävle skiss
A rough skiss of the general dimensions of the anomaly based on the imagery released by SVT. The object seems to cast a shadow towards one of the sides, which according to my understanding is normal for this kind of sounding equipment. Source: Own work

It does seem clear that it was some kind of a underwater vehicle. It was observed by professionals, using proper equipment, and observed numerous times before disappearing. It should also be noted that the location meant that if it had been there for any longer periods of time, it would have been hit by a passing merchant vessel.

The obvious next question is what kind of a vessel it could have been. It does seem to feature a quite pronounced passenger bay, meaning that it is likely a ‘wet’ swimmer delivery vehicle, SDV, in which divers sit with their gear on, and not a ‘proper’ midget submarine. There are two (likely) operators of these in the Baltic Sea: Russia, and Sweden.

Russia (probably) uses the Triton-NN, which rose to fame during the Swedish sub-hunt a few years back when it featured heavily in the speculations. Here there’s the obvious point that Gävle was mentioned by Gerasimov in April as part of a staging area, as discussed on the blog earlier, and as such it is likely the target of some form of intelligence gathering efforts.

A more likely candidate, however, seems to be the Swedish JFD SEAL Carrier, which the company has confirmed it has delivered to the Swedish Defence Forces. The likely user is the combat divers Attackdykarna, thought within the Swedish Defence Forces there are also other potential operators under the surface, such as the special forces (SOG), underwater clearance teams (Röjdykare), and even certain army engineers practice diving.

Compare the general dimensions of the SEAL Carrier to the skiss above. The vessel is 10,5 m long, with a width of 2,21 m. The stern is sloping (tumblehome, left side of the picture), while the bow is more sharply built with the crew/passenger compartment being the open bay close to the bow. Perhaps the most significant feature is the round object to the left of the centreline just aft of the passenger compartment. This location matches the location of the snorkel on the SEAL Carrier. As it happens, the Triton NN is more or less an mirror-image of this design, with a car-like bow and a passenger-compartment towards the (straight) stern. There is also a snorkel mounted on the right-side in front of the passenger compartment, but the proportions doesn’t seem to match as well.

As such, my impression is that this is an example of the Swedish Navy’s combat divers being accidentally found during one of their unannounced exercises. As such, the outcome of the incident is probably not much worse than that someone has to buy someone else a round of drinks. Keep calm, and carry on!

Points to @covertshores, who I believe was the first one to point out the similarities to the SEAL Carrier.

Red October Revisited – Yes, there was a foreign submarine

Let’s repeat as the info currently spreading gives the wrong impression:

Swedish defence forces collected as well as received from the public multiple pieces of evidence for the underwater intrusion in autumn of 2014. Of these roughly 300 reported issues, around half were written off immediately, with half being analysed further. In the end, 21 were deemed “particularly interesting”, leading to the conclusion (after a year of analysis) that there was proof “Beyond all reasonable doubt” that there had been a foreign underwater intruder in Swedish waters during the Red October-incident. The Swedish defence forces never based this on any single crucial piece of evidence, but on the analysis of the collected information. This was made public last September, and again confirmed yesterday.

Bottenspår
Fresh tracks left by the submarine on the bottom, one of the pieces of evidence still valid. Source: Försvarsmakten.se

The sound recording now attributed to a Swedish source was not amongst the 21 “particularly interesting” pieces of evidence, despite it having featured prominently in the discussions during and immediately after the incident, as it had been disproved during the more thorough analyses done during the year following the incident. This was also revealed already in September 2015, though the true source was not given back then.

Anyone spreading versions of the story that there was no submarine, either hasn’t read particularly much on the so called Red October-incident, or is knowingly spreading false information that hurts the reputation of the defence forces. The big question is why?

Interesting thing is that the original SR-piece (Swedish national radio) is on the whole rather correct, though it uses the term “crucial evidence” in an unclear/misleading fashion. Still, e.g. reputable Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, citing this article with a link, reported the news in a fashion that makes it possible to easily misunderstand the importance of the evidence, and one could even get the impression that there was no intrusion at all!

There are also those claiming that the submarine’s identity was given as Russian back when the operation was ongoing, which is another lie. No official Swedish spokesperson or agency ever did so. The theory that it indeed was Russian does remain popular amongst the larger crowd, based on a combination of history, current threatening behaviour, available capability, and the Russian media reporting of the incident being full of outright lies trying to lay the blame on everyone else.

Exactly how (and why) this change in tone and message happened is unclear to me, but while some have pointed at malice on the part of SR, as noted their original article is not that far off. A more plausible explanation in my opinion is the one given by Editor-in-Chief for News at the Finnish News Agency STT, Minna Holopainen, who reasons that a combination of journalists retelling the news too quickly coupled with lack of fact-checking and the Swedish submarine hunts being an easy target all added up to a “Chinese whispers”-situation. STT also did a proper second article, in which they laid out the background in further details.

 

In the end, this is just another warning of the danger of skipping proper source checking in an age of ever increasing media, and of the need of proper quick responses by government agencies to swiftly terminate any hurtful rumours developing.

Red April – The Harmaja Subhunt

Finnish territory apparently was intruded upon yesterday and today (27-28.04.2015). It is only logical to compare this to the so called Red October-incident that took place within Swedish waters last autumn, and while I am aware that others have already done so, I decided to have a go at it anyway.

The Intrusion

First a recap of the events: Yesterday an underwater listening station picked up a “loud and clear” sound that indicated the presence of underwater activity outside of Harmaja, at the outskirts of Helsinki. The vessel on call, mine ship FNS Uusimaa, was called to the scene. Sometimes later, the second vessel on call, fast attack craft FNS Hanko, was alerted, and the Finnish border guards were informed. The border guards responded by sending the patrol vessel VL Turva. Of note is that the most competent ASW-ships in the Finnish navy, the Rauma-class fast attack crafts, are all temporarily out of service since February, due to hull cracks. Of the three vessels involved, only Uusimaa can be said to have a serious anti-submarine capability, with Turva not being armed in peacetime and Hanko lacking in search equipment.

VL Turva, the brand new flagship of the Finnish border guards. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Cha già José

Still, contact was renewed around 01:30 in the early hours of today (28.04.2015), and after the “underwater object” had been tracked for around an hour and a half, the Commanding Officer of Uusimaa decided to fire warning charges. These are not depth charges per se, but rather small handheld charges that detonate underwater, their aim being to tell the submarine “We know you’re there, and we don’t like it. Please move on!”

At around 03:00, six charges were dropped by Uusimaa, the result of which was that “no further warnings, or depth charges, were needed”. In other words, the underwater object left Finnish waters. Later today the naval vessels left the scene of the operation, while the border guards have started an investigation into the incident. The investigation includes going through all acquired material, and may take weeks. Obviously, major parts of the investigation will probably never be released to the public, due to the sensitive nature of the information, e.g. the location and capabilities of the underwater listening stations.

To note is that so far the nature of the “underwater object” has not been confirmed, but a small submarine seems to be the most likely culprit. However, this gives Finland and Sweden an opportunity to “compare notes”, and check if it was the same intruder, and what can be learnt from these two incidents.

Similarities

To begin with, the obvious case is that both non-aligned nations in northern Europe have seen their waters intruded upon by an unknown nation within the time span of less than a year (curiously enough, none of the NATO-states have reported the same thing). In both cases, it happened during the interregnum after parliamentary elections. In Finland’s case, today was the day Juha Sipilä officially got the mission to form a government.

If this is a message aimed at scaring Finland away from NATO by a show of force, I believe it will fail. Most probably, it will not have any major effect on the Finnish opinion, and in the case it does, it will most probably only give the pro-NATO side a small push forwards.

FNS Uusimaa (05). Suorce: Puolustusvoimat
FNS Uusimaa (05) firing ASW rockets. These are the probable weapon of choice if the order to destroy the intruder would have been issued. Suorce: Puolustusvoimat

In both cases, the navy responded in force, and was rather open with information about the event (and in both cases, the press was happy to fly over the area with their helicopters to provide live feeds). I would especially like to express my appreciation of the open and straightforward communication with the public that the navy initiated, something that has not always been the case.

The Differences

There are, however, notable differences. First and foremost, while the Swedish operation was deep inside Swedish waters, the Finnish contact was on the edge of Finnish territory. This meant that the Finnish operation was of a very different nature, with the main aim seemingly being to chase away the intruder. As far as I know, there was never any use of either alert or depth charges during the Swedish operation, which might be an indication of the Finnish vessels acquiring a better fix on their target (the other alternative is that the Swedish vessels were trying to fire for effect, which naturally requires a higher degree of target identification than alert charges).

An interesting detail is that while the Finnish navy described similar incidents as “rare”, with the last two taking place in 2004, the Swedish navy stated that similar incidents had indeed taken place earlier. Edit 29042015: Finnish officials today confirmed that with “similar incidents”, only incidents when alert charges were dropped are counted. They refused to comment on the issue whether underwater intruders were as rare. No exact numbers exist from either country, but the question whether this was a one-off incident, or whether someone will start testing Finland’s defences more often remains open for now.

A noteworthy feature is the reaction of Russian media. When Sweden started their subhunt, it took a few days for Russian national media before they got their propaganda machine going and started to create new theories. In this case, the news reports started coming instantly from Russian sources. RIA Novosti quoted Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov, who commented, negatively, about “reports of alleged appearances by Russian submarines in the territorial waters”. So far, no official Finnish channel has identified the object as a Russian submarine. Sputnik (which opened their Finnish service earlier this week) drew parallels with the Swedish operation, where “Sweden accused Russia of operating a submarine in its waters, later found to be a Swedish vessel”. As far as I know, no Swedish official channel identified the submarine as Russian, and contrary to the article, the main incident was later confirmed to have been a midget submarine, while another reported sighting was downgraded to have been of a Swedish vessel.

The operation also highlights the differences in ASW-tactics between the Finnish and Swedish navies. While the Swedish navy employs a more traditional approach centred on vessels equipped with both sensors and weaponry, supported by helicopters and some underwater listening stations at strategic places, the Finnish tactic is based around the fact that our coastal waters are shallow and broken up by numerous islands and shoals. Thus, the underwater listening stations function like an early warning system, which locate intruders, and based on this information surface vessels can then be alerted to the scene to get a better picture of the situation, and if needed either chase away or destroy the intruder. Of note is also that the Finnish border guards were heavily involved in the operation, unlike their Swedish colleagues. Partly, this is due to the small number of surface vessels in the Finnish navy that are capable of an operation like this, a number that is set to diminish even more with the replacement of three mine ships and four Rauma-class FAC with an unknown number of MTA 2020-corvettes.

The Finnish operation seems to have been a text-book example of how the Finnish ASW-machinery is supposed to work, and based on open sources all involved rightfully deserves credit for this. Some media have praised the Finnish operation as an example of resolute action, in which the enemy was driven away by the use of arms, and put this into contrast with the more modest (or even haphazard) Swedish way of chasing submarines.

I do not share this view.

The Finnish navy did not “bomb” anybody, and never fired with the intent to kill or damage. Dropping alert charges is the closest one can come to communicating with a foreign underwater vessel, and the step to actually making an attack run with full-size depth charges is rather long. Also, while the concentrated effort of three (for Finland) large vessels is impressive, it is dwarfed by the Swedish armada of corvettes, mine hunters, helicopters, and marines with their landing crafts, that spent the better part of a week hunting through the archipelago. The Swedish helicopters might lack dipping sonar, but so does the Finnish ones, and unlike Sweden, Finland has no plans to acquire a heli-based ASW-capability. While the Finnish operation was well executed, the same can be said about the Swedish.

Revisting Red October – Confirmed Midget Submarine

The events surrounding the Red October-incident took a rather surprising turn this week, with the Swedish Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Commander-in-Chief holding a press conference, in which they declared that the analysis of the information collected by both the Swedish Defence Forces as well as civilians during the intelligence operation in the archipelago of Stockholm revealed that there indeed had been at least one foreign military midget submarine deep inside Swedish territorial waters.

Fresh tracks left by the submarine in the bottom. Source: Försvarsmakten.se
Fresh tracks left by the submarine in the bottom. Source: Försvarsmakten.se

When saying that this came as a surprise to me (but not to some others), what I felt was surprising was not that there had been an incursion, but that the Swedish Defence Forces had manage to secure the amount of evidence that they actually would go out and call it confirmed. As had been seen during the operation itself, the phrasing used in discussing the foreign underwater activity is very strict, with no officials at any time during the operation going so far as to confirm the existence of any kind of underwater activity. The language used by both the Prime Minister as well as the CinC, makes it very clear that this is an extremely serious incident. In a rather long and winding way, the Prime Minister went as far as to:

“…remind [the ones behind the incursion] that the Defence Forces have all the authority needed, so that they in a critical situation can prevent a foreign vessel from escaping, as a last resort with military use of force.”

Whole speech by Prime Minister Löfven is found here. Of interest is that Miljöpartiet, the other party in the current Swedish government, as far as I have found have not in any way commented on this new information so far.

The rules of engagement and general conduct of the Defence Forces in the case of violations of Swedish territory is found in regulation 1982:756: Förordning om Försvarsmaktens ingripanden vid kränkningar av Sveriges territorium under fred och neutralitet, m.m., better known as the IKFN-regulation. An official explanatory guide of this legal text is found in the form of Handbok IKFN. This document presents in a clear manner what kinds of “military force” Löfven is talking about.

Page in "Handbok IKFN" dealing with submerged submarines in internal waters. Note also the end of previous chapter, dealing with the firing of warning shots. Source: Handbok IKFN
Page in “Handbok IKFN” dealing with submerged submarines in internal waters. Note also the end of previous chapter, dealing with the firing of warning shots. Source: Handbok IKFN

If a submarine is found submerged inside the internal waters, Director of Operations (C INS) is authorized to decide on the use of weapons that might sink the submarine. These may be used without prior warning, unless Commander Maritime Component Command (MTCH, subordinated to C INS) decides against it due to such an order endangering friendly submarines. In an earlier chapter, “Submarines inside the Territorial Waters”, we find the guidelines for warning shots against submarines. Here, weapons of choice are discussed, as well as the important principle of waiting at least five minutes after the warning shots until proceeding with live weapons.

However, at 19:30 into the press conference, the CinC (accidentally?) let an important piece of the ROE for the operation slip, namely that they were not allowed to use weapons “without prior warning”. If the decision to employ warning shots before the use of live ammunitions was made by politicians or high-ranking officers (in which case it most likely would have been either the CinC or C INS) remains an open question. In any case, at some point in the chain of command, it had been decided against employing the full range of alternatives available to the military. This makes Löfven’s reminder an important part of the speech, as it could mean that next time this will not be the case.

With regards to the Finnish-Swedish relation, Löfven took care to name Finland individually first in the line of spheres of cooperation for Sweden, before proceeding with NORDEFCO, the EU, and NATO. In Finland, Finnish Foreign Minister Tuomioja stated that he had thought the presence of an intruder likely since the start of the operation, and that this removes every shadow of a doubt, while Defence Minister Haglund, who earlier had called for more openness on the part of the Swedish Defence Forces, was quick to praise the decision to present the evidence available.

Summing up the operation, it can only be described as a tactical success. As Captain Jonas Wikström (C INS) expressed it, the goal of the operation was to determine whether “foreign underwater activity is or has been conducted in the area”, something which now has been done successfully. On the strategic and diplomatic level, the relative success or failure is harder to judge, but the fact that the Swedish Navy managed to secure evidence of such a high quality shows that no shadow should fall on the men and women directly involved in the conduct of the operation.

The incident also yet again brought home the point that while it might easily be forgotten in the friendly chatter on Twitter and blogs, the discussion on defence and security can go from theory to practice in a surprisingly short time. The one single tweet that I personally remember best from the whole incident was posted by Johan Wiktorin, and featured LtCdr. Niklas “Skipper” Wiklund in action. It was a sobering experience to see a person one interact with on a regular basis participating in an operation many saw as more or less purely hypothetical only a year ago (except for Wiktorin himself, who wrote about a similar scenario last year in his short novel “Korridoren till Kaliningrad“).

Behind the immediate front line two persons in particular rose above the crowd in my opinion: Air Force (!) Maj Carl “Wiseman” Bergqvist showed in a number of instances in traditional media that he is an adept ASW-expert, while retired naval officer and sub-hunter Göran Frisk provided an enjoyable mix of serious insights, one-liners, and straight talk, to the extent that he now has a Facebook Fan-page with over 4,500 likes. Both of them, together with countless of others, did a valuable job in the face of Russian Psy Ops by spreading correct information about ASW-operations, the state of the Swedish Navy, and the role of Russia in the Baltic Sea-area.

The Göran - Inte som fia med knuff. Source: Göran Frisk Fan Page.
The Göran – Inte som fia med knuff. Source: Göran Frisk Fan Page.

Thanks to Wiseman, Erik Lagersten, Anders Gardberg, and the others who helped me with understanding the roles and terminology of C INS and MTCH.