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.

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

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.

MTA/Laivue 2020 – Who Forgot the Marketing?

Back to normal postings, after Friday’s special one.

The Minister of Defence yesterday officially gave the Finnish Defence Forces the go-ahead to start the procurement program of the next squadron of ships for the Finnish Navy. This program, going under the name of Laivue 2020 (fi. Squadron 2020), has as its stated aim the procurement of four (at the moment) corvettes to replace the three minelayers of the Pohjanmaa- and Hämeenmaa-classes, as well as the four light fast attack craft of the Rauma-class.

Get together
All pics from yesterday’s PowerPoint presentation by the Ministry of Defence/Finnish Navy.

In general, most of what was said at the press conference held by the Minister of Defence Niinistö and the Commander of the Navy, Rear Admiral Takanen, is known from before. There will be a new class of ships, which will be built with a “high degree of indigenous content”, and which will be capable of performing “all missions the Navy by law is set to handle” (i.e. safeguarding Finnish merchant shipping and protecting our seaside borders from unwanted attention) all year round in all weather conditions. As such, these will feature both anti-air, anti-submarine, as well as anti-shipping capability. While geared towards ‘traditional’ coastal defence missions, they will also feature a secondary capability for international missions. Their most important distinguishing feature will be their size, which will make them some of the largest, if not the largest, warships throughout the history of the Finnish Navy.

Amongst the new information was that the timeline is getting clearer: the Requests for Information will be sent out this year or during the beginning of next, after which the Requests for Quotation will follow in late 2016/early 2017. The order should be finalised in 2018, after which the vessels will be built during 2019 to 2024, with initial operational capability 2025, and the squadron operational as a cohesive unit in 2028.

Timeline future
The future timeline, curiously lacking years on the x-axis.

The rather crude concept renders, indicating either an early design stage or unwillingness to disclose details of the design, were not too telling either. The concept shown features a landing pad with a hangar (!). The hangar seems too small for housing the NH90 TTH used by the Finnish Army, and as the NH90 in any case would provide very limited value for maritime missions, this seems to indicate a readiness to procure a dedicated light maritime helicopter (e.g. the AW159 Wildcat) or unmanned helicopter system (e.g. the MQ-8 Fire Scout) at some point in the future. The weapons consists of a single turret mounted medium-calibre gun, twin quadruple launchers for anti-ship missiles, and a battery of VLS-launchers for air-to-surface missiles. A gun-based CIWS-system is not mounted, but may be an option. In the rear, the transom seems to hold a small hatch for deploying a towed array sonar. Still, as this is one of several designs, too much shouldn’t be read into these pictures (some have noted the similarity of the renders to the US Freedom-class LCS, or the Russian Steregushchy-class corvettes, however, that’s just the way most modern warships look these days, and the comparison could as easily be made to the German MEKO-designs, the Chinese Type 056, or the larger British Type 26 frigate).

Concept render of the MTA2020.

The cost for the project is expected to be around 1.2 billion Euros for a unit cost (including R&D) of 300 million Euros. This will be handled outside of the normal defence budget, and while it is smaller than the potentially 10 billion Euro HX fighter-program, it is still a lot of money for a country with a bleak-ish looking economy and several other major programs coming up in the near future for the defence forces. This means that the procurement will meet resistance from certain political circles.

And this is the main gripe I have with the announcement. From the outline it is clear that much thought has gone into the decision to procure four warships of this size and according to the specification outlined. Still, what the general public and journalists are left with is a double-sided A4 and eight (!) PowerPoint slides. The main arguments presented are:

  • Old ships must be retired
  • The Navy needs new ones, otherwise it won’t be able to fulfil its duties written in the law
Timeline so far
Timeline so far, lots of studies done and reports written.

One does not need to be an oracle to foresee the debate that will follow the decision to acquire these (for Finland) large vessels. Do we really need them? Why can’t we make do with more FAC’s (as we have done for the last decades)? Can’t we just order more Hamina-class vessels? What shall we do to counter the loss of three hulls? Why do the Navy get these funds, when the Army anyway will be the one winning or losing any future wars? And so on…

The air force realised this, and the preliminary report made for the HX-program dealt with the similar questions that program will have to face to reach broad acceptance in today’s Finland. On 60+ pages, they explained in detail the background to the need for new fighters, why the capability can’t be solved by another mid-life update, or why can’t we just buy “cheap” UAV’s? They explained why we need at least as many fighters as we have today, and how the new aircraft will have to be fit for several different missions. And most important of all, they did all this in such a way that the reader with a casual interest in these questions understood their arguments, and they were provided nicely packaged for easy access.

The navy did none of this. While I don’t doubt that the navy has made their homework, and while I understand the need for secrecy, I do believe that the navy has taken things a step too far. In today’s society, it is not enough to ‘sell’ a project of this size to the decision makers; you need to sell it to the general public as well. So far, the navy seems reluctant to do this.