Enter Seahawk – Exit Whitefox?

That Sweden has had a rough time with their NH 90-fleet is no secret. The HKP 14 as it is known locally was delayed to the extent that a batch of 15 UH-60M Blackhawk had to be acquired as a stop-gap for the MEDEVAC-role in Afghanistan due to the Swedish Super Pumas being retired and the NH90 still being quite some way off from entering service. The UH-60M has been a stunning success for the Swedes, becoming a reliable workhorse for the Swedish Armed Forces in general and the airmobile soldiers of the K 3 Livregementets hussarer (Life Regiment Hussars) in particular.

A US Navy MH-60R Seahawk from HSM-78 “Blue Hawks” releases flares during a training exercise. Note the half-full sonobouy dispenser (and lack of port side door), large radar disk under the front fuselage, and aft landing gear being significantly forward compared to a UH-60. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano via Wikimedia Commons

Now, unlike the situation in Finland where the NH90 eventually overcame the teething troubles to be widely accepted as a fully functioning and integrated part of the Finnish Defence Forces, the NH90 in Sweden has continued to struggle. To the extent that questions about the future of the platform has continued to be raised at regular intervals. A key part of the question is the role of the maritime mission sets which currently is outside the scope of Blackhawk operations. Instead, the Swedish NH 90-fleet sport two different versions: the transport-roled HKP 14E and the maritime-roled HKP 14F. Crucially, the HKP 14F is not an NH90 FFH, but a uniquely Swedish version based on the NH90 TTH (in addition both versions sport a higher cabin to provide a more ergonomic working environment, but the cost impact of that much-maligned feature at this stage is likely minor). The nine HKP 14F are equipped with a “tactical radar” (i.e. a maritime surveillance radar), dipping sonar, as well as sonobuoy launcher and processing capability. Keen readers will note that there are no weapons or datalinks in the description above, and that omission is not by accident.

Somehow, with Sweden being no stranger to neither airborne ASW-operations nor datalinks, it was originally decided against acquiring weapons or datalinks for the NH90, despite the platform being a key integrated part in both the surface and sub-surface warfare plans of the Swedish Navy. The realisation that this is stupid is nothing new, and has been discussed since before the helicopters were delivered. Eventually, common sense prevailed, and the latest long-term plan dictate that the integration of the new lightweight torpedo (TP 47) and a datalink will begin before 2025.

Back in 2018 it was reported that the Swedish Armed Forces looked into mothballing all of the transport-roled HKP 14E operating in northern Sweden to save money. A year later the issues continued, with lack of spares and too few trained technicians leading to fewer (and more costly) flight hours than planned, meaning that the northern Swedish Army units in Arvidsjaur (the recently reinstituted ranger regiment) and Boden have had a hard time getting the flight hours they need.

A HKP 14F, readily identifiable thanks to the large radar disk under the front fuselage. Source: Henrik Rådman/Försvarsmakten

Shortly before Christmas this year, it was reported that the armed forces again are looking at cutting the NH90-fleet. Following preliminary studies, there are two main options: one is to continue with the NH90 and go through with the planned upgrades for the HKP 14F to get the datalink and torpedo, while also ordering another batch of Blackhawks. The second option is to retire all NH90s, and instead go for a joint UH-60 Blackhawk/MH-60 Seahawk-fleet for all the helicopter needs of the Swedish Armed Forces (there is a third helicopter, the light AW109 which is in service as the HKP 15 and seem set for retirement without direct replacement). It is somewhat unclear what is supposed to happen with the HKP 14E, but considering the wish to buy more Blackhawks in both scenarios and the apparent focus on the maritime HKP 14F it does sound like the days of the HKP 14E in the army cooperation role is numbered.

On paper the joint Blackhawk/Seahawk-fleet sounds all nice and simple, and I will say that I am a big proponent of cutting losses and not succumbing to the sunken cost fallacy. At the same time, it is evident that the truth isn’t quite as straightforward.

Another unit which uses the UH-60M is the Swedish SERE- and Personnel Recovery-training unit FÖS, which sort under K 3. Here a UH-60M is out carrying a number of personnel of FÖS earlier this summer. Source: Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten

A key reason why the UH-60M Blackhawk deal was so successful is that it was a rather straightforward need (move healthy and sick people and equipment quickly from point A to B) and that it was accepted to just grab what was already in US service and paint some Swedish crowns on the side (slight exaggeration, but not by much). It is significantly more doubtful if the same is the case for the highly technical ASW-role, case in point being the Danish order for the MH-60R Seahawk (affectionally known as Romeo thanks to the version-letter). Denmark received approval back in 2010 for nine MH-60R, and they achieved IOC in 2017. However, crucially Denmark opted for a non-ASW fitted MH-60R, and decided to include some unique equipment (including the NATO-standard harpoon-hydraulic deck-locking system instead of the US RAST, as well as specific emergency equipment). As such, they have largely operated in the SAR and fisheries protection role, and only now are they being refitted (“during the coming years”) to be able to operate in the ASW-role. This puts it more or less at the same schedule as the Swedish NH90, depending on when exactly “the coming years” is and how long the Swedish integration starting before 2025 takes.

A Danish MH-60R Seahawk in Greenland. Note the additional rescue kit fitted to one of the pylons, and the radar under the forward belly. Source: Forsvaret

Another major question is how the blue-water Romeo works in the brackish littorals of the Baltic Sea? That’s less of an issue for Denmark, where the majority of the time the helicopters will be working out in the North Sea or around Greenland, but for Sweden the Baltic Sea is the main playing field of the Navy. This is acknowledged by the Swedish Armed Forces, and is one of the key reasons why the NH90 NFH wasn’t bought. The plan now is to be able to get a USN helicopter over some time during next summer, and get to see how that performs in Swedish conditions. Obviously, even if the Romeo is chosen, there is a sliding scale between a HKP 16-style off-the-shelf buy and a stripped Romeo fitted with Swedish ASW-equipment and weapons dedicated to the Baltic Sea-environment. Obviously, the most extreme version would be to grab a UH-60M and start installing the extra equipment in that in the same way as is being done with the HKP 14F, something that certainly would be more costly at the outset but would provide a higher degree of synergies and also be based on a simpler platform compared to the navalised MH-60 (there certainly are synergies between the UH-60M and the MH-60R, but there certainly are differences as well). Because for the time being, and unlike Denmark, no Swedish vessel is able to accept either the Blackhawk or the NH90 (the Visby can take aboard the AW109, which honestly might be the feature most sorely missed if it is retired without replacement), meaning that features such as folding blades and tail are just adding extra weight, meaning that a converted Blackhawk might be attractive. A middle of the road alternative that most likely would only combine the worst of the two alternatives would be to use the MH-60S Knighthawk, the multi-role sister to the Romeo, and fit it with an ASW-suite. The Sierra is in essence a navalised version of the UH-60L fitted with the same cockpit and navalised systems as the Romeo (minus the ASW-stuff), and is used for a number of different missions in the US Navy.

Notable is that production for the US Navy has ended for both versions in 2018 (Romeo) and 2015 (Sierra) respectively, though export orders are keeping the production line of the Romeo warm (latest of which is an Australian order for additional Blackhawks and Seahawks to replace their NH90s a decade early in both the transport- and maritime-roles). The Sierra just might be easier to work with if Sweden would want a Seahawk, but with a fully Swedish mission system and if they then would run into some hardware/space-related issues, but the Romeo is by far the most likely alternative (ironically, one of the few prospective MH-60S export orders was for a Qatari contract where a mixed MH-60R/S-fleet lost to the NH90).

However, if we look at the other extreme, and Sweden would simply order nine MH-60R according to USN specifications, there certainly is some interesting options here. To begin with aligning what will be a very small fleet with the standard of a larger operator does provide significant benefits when it comes to operating and upgrade costs, and both spares and weapons would likely be available at a rather cheap rate. The USN training pipeline could potentially also be used, something that might become more of an issue if the AW109 is withdrawn from service.

(Keen readers might notice that several of these points figured prominently during discussions about the HX-program.)

The Romeo and its sensors almost certainly isn’t as well suited to the Baltic Sea as a fully kitted out HKP 14F would be, but here comes the classic question: is a 75 or 90% solution at half the cost the best bang for the buck (note the numbers are pure examples)? A key detail is that finding submarines is extremely difficult, and despite the technological advances is still highly reliant on skilled personnel with a good understanding of local conditions. If switching to a solution that technically might not be the best fit allow the crews to train more, the end result might still be more scrap metal at the bottom of the sea than would otherwise be the case.

The operator stations of the Swedish HKP 14F. While all Swedish Armed Forces helicopters belong to the Air Force, many of those associated with the maritime helicopters have a background in the Navy (including both crew members aboard the helicopters as well as the current commanding officer of the unit). Source: Henrik Rådmark/Försvarsmakten

However – and this is an aspect that the Swedish evaluation will find hard to overlook – ASW is seen as a significant strategic interest for the Swedish defence industry, and killing the HKP 14F with its Saab-designed and built tactical mission system (including domestic sonar) will prove politically difficult. The orders are already far and few between, and with the Armed Forces in general short on funding a decision to acquire a standard Romeo is bound to raise uncomfortable questions. If the Mark 54 is good enough for the heliborne ASW-component, perhaps it is so for the rest of the force as well? What about sensors and processing units? This obviously also ties in with the same questions asked about the small submarine force, as many of the systems rest on a solid knowledge of similar topics (including e.g. Torped 47 as the obvious common weapon system). Giving up the locally developed sensors and weapons on the helicopter might very well come back to bite the Navy at a later stage when it is time for an upgrade of shipboard sensors and systems. As such, the decision on how to proceed with the helicopter part of things shouldn’t be taken lightly.

In the end, a Swedish Romeo-mod might still turn out to the be the best and cheapest option overall. However, the speedy UH-60M buy might not be the best reference point. Rather a highly complex project that hopefully can salvage the lessons (and potentially some hardware) from the current HKP 14F-fleet is to be expected, and I would not be surprised if the FOC date more or less corresponds to what would be the case for a full datalink and torpedo integration for the NH90.

An MH-60R Seahawk (in this case from HSM-73 “Battlecats”) – soon in a littoral theatre near you? Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Logan C. Kellums via Wikimedia Commons

(And since I know you will ask: I don’t foresee Finland acquiring ex-Swedish NH90s to increase the size of the Finnish fleet, though I certainly could imagine some being acquired for cannibalisation in case the spares situation is as poor as the Australian decision seem to indicate)

Disinformation!

Skipper is a well-recognized voice in Swedish discussions on defence and national security. Following the questionable reporting on details surrounding the subhunt of 2014, reporting that now has been quoted in Finnish media as well, he wrote a blog post on his personal blog which I have received permission to translate into English. Any errors in the translation are fully my own.

I practically never write blog posts any longer, but sometimes I feel the demand to do so. The following is due to SvD’s damaging reporting on the submarine question published yesterday.

I will not in any way comment upon the substance of the article. The only thing I will discuss in this post is the unquestioning attitude of the media. Conclusions presented in headlines and introductions to articles are flat out damaging for Sweden and cannot be seen as anything but pure disinformation. Where then lies the problem?

The headline and introduction used by SvD is phrased in a way that a reader not familiar with the issue cannot be expected to understand in any way other than that there never was any foreign submarine activity at all in Swedish waters in October 2014. This conclusion is utterly incorrect. Even worse is the fact that all other media repeat this statement without further questions.

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Original SvD headline
omni
Pure disinformation spread by Omni based on the SvD piece
exp
Expressen takes it one step further with the seriously wrongful statement that the ASW-budget would have been increased by 10 billion SEK (920 MEUR at today’s rate) following the incident 

This narrative constitutes direct disinformation, and was quickly established through national Swedish media during yesterday evening, and soon all established national news-channels sported a rewrite of the article, none of which showed any signs of questioning the narrative. All featured the same or similar misleading and erroneous headlines. [Today Finnish media has also repeated the claims.]

Even public service in the form of Sveriges Radio and Sveriges Television did such rewrites in blind trust, and as such played their part in spreading disinformation. SR and SVT that are trusted to continue working in times of war and serious crises, and as such form “protection” against influence and information operations directed against Sweden.

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The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) 2017:5 “The agency’s work related to disinformation”

Following a social media storm against this both SvD and SVT, as well as other media, have rewritten their headlines and introductions. The problem is that the damage is already done. The narrative is set, and the man on the street now lives with a picture that all that was written by SvD and the others were correct, and that there was no foreign submarine activity in October 2014.

This morning several editorial boards have responded and corrected their headlines and introductions (see below).

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SvD with their updated headline (corrected the day after publication)
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Original headline (misleading given the facts)
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Corrected headline

If media had bothered to check the facts before publication none of this would have had to happen. The facts on the ground have not changed since September 2015, something that SvD knows while still deciding to make a grand fuss about this.

To get the facts one can read the Swedish Defence Forces article from 23 September 2015 with the headline “Beyond all reasonable doubt“. Some extracts from the text (my bold):

The Defence Forces’ final analysis shows that, as was stated last autumn, it is beyond all reasonable doubt that the Swedish internal territorial waters were violated in the Stockholm archipelago in October 2014.

The basis for this conclusion is now a significantly larger material than what was available in the immediate aftermath of the intelligence operation [i.e. the subhunt].

Of the roughly 300 reports that came in approximately 150 has been analysed in further detail of which 21 were judged to be particularly interesting.

Following the analysis several of these have now received a higher classification compared to the earlier analysis. The combined evaluation based on the amount of observations in the area provide a very high level of confidence.

The observation that last autumn was judged to be of the highest level of confidence has been reevaluated. Here additional information have come to light that give this particular observation another explanation, and as such it is not included in the basis for the combined evaluation. Despite this the conclusion remain that through the analysis work it is concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the Swedish internal waters have been violated.

The conclusion that media should have identified is that the “news” SvD built its article on wasn’t part of the final analysis work and combined evaluation. This was obvious already four years ago, but still media tries to spin this to mean that this news should be taken as proof that there was no underwater activity.

As such, this is pure disinformation, and it is regrettable that next to all media without question jumped the bandwagon on this sensation piece. It would – as many have pointed out – be interesting if SR medierna [an investigative public service radio show] would look into this reporting and investigate it from the point of view of source criticism.

That SVT did a rewrite of the article without looking into the sources with a critical mind is particularly interesting as SVT themselves recently launched a campaign for increased media literacy and critical evaluation of sources.

Starting today, SVT launches a new campaign about the role of public service in the modern media landscape. The first film discusses the need for fact-based journalism.

The film “Hen out of a feather” [Swedish expression meaning to make a mountain out of a molehill] focuses on the great importance of fact-based journalism in a world where rumors easily become truths, and information risks being corrupted. Where the border between opinion and fact becomes ever more fluid, and the current fast digital media landscape contribute to making a hen out of a feather.

The campaign has also been heavily criticized, including by the comedy show Svenska Nyheter.

A significantly more nuanced text has been written by Mikael Holmström (DN).

A well-written editorial is found in Expressen by Linda Jernek with the headline “Don’t spread the spin that the submarine was just a bouy”

Yet another meltdown in the reporting is made by Jonna Andersson (mitti.se), se below.

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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.