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.

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: Fö
Fresh tracks left by the submarine in the bottom. Source: Fö

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.

Finnish Assistance and Russian Media

Note: After a few posts mainly made up of news, headlines and specifications, this post will feature opinions.

Finnish Assistance

As I hinted at earlier, I strongly believe that Finland should offer its support to Sweden in light of current activities. For a small country situated next to an authoritarian greater power, it is crucial that international laws and principles are respected. This includes respecting the territory of foreign countries, both air, land and sea. If our close neighbors, in whose ability to protect their own territory we (according to PM Stubb at a press conference today) trust, says that they strongly suspect a foreign underwater incursion, that should be all the info we need to have a high government official issue a strongly worded condemnation aimed at whoever it is that is behind the incursion. After this, we can start thinking about offering concrete steps to help solve the issue, as it is in our own interest to know who it is that conducts illegal operations in the Baltic Sea. It would be naïve to believe that a string of successful missions directed against Sweden would not put Finland at risk for similar incursions. Thus, we do not need to argue about whether or not we are morally obliged to offer help to the Swedish authorities, as even if one would believe that we weren’t, we should still do so out of respect for our own security needs.

MHC Katanpää (’40), leadship of a class of three new mine countermeasure vessels. The brand new vessel has some of the most advanced sensors currently available in the Baltic Sea for finding underwater items, and could be of great assistance to the Swedish operation. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI.

It might be that Sweden believes that our direct support is not needed, but the offering of assistance would in itself be a powerful signal. If the Finnish government believes it is a too strong signal, more indirect means are available. Yesterday would have been a good opportunity to send out a naval vessel to escort Professor Logachev on its way through the Gulf of Finland. It could have been done at a respectful distance, and as part of a “normal” cruise. This would have given credible deniability in case Russia would have reacted, while still sending a message of support to our western neighbors. Also to note is that as Russia has repeatedly stated that they do not have a submarine in the search area, the Finnish government could credibly state that any participation is directed against our easterly neighbor. However, it must be said that with the Swedish government taking such a low-key approach to the whole incident, it might be out of place for Finland to take the lead in condemning it. If this is the case, I hope that Stubb at their meeting today expressed to Löfven that he has our support if the Swedish government would decide to change their current stance. There are currently only two non-NATO countries aside from Russia bordering the Baltic Sea. While it is a cliché, the cause of Sweden is indeed very much our own as well. And vice versa.

Russian Media

The Red October-incident continues, and today Russian media and psychological operations were activated on a larger scale, with the information originating from TASS. The story was simple: there is no Russian submarine in Swedish waters, but instead the Swedish authorities should “request explanations from the Dutch Navy command”, as it was claimed that it was the Walrus-class submarine HNLMS Bruinvis which would have been spotted while conducting an emergency surfacing drill. This was rapidly debunked by the Dutch Navy, which denied that their submarine would have been in Swedish waters after finishing the joint exercise Northern Archer earlier last week. As it was clear that the Bruinvis had been moored openly in Tallinn during a large part of the weekend, the Russian claim was easily shown as being completely unfounded.

HNLMS Bruinvis, photo taken by Mika Peltola on Saturday (18102014) morning at 8 AM in port of Tallinn.
HNLMS Bruinvis, photo taken by Mika Peltola on Saturday (18102014) morning at 8 AM in the port of Tallinn.

As a side not, TASS has also posted an article with the headline “Sweden’s search for unknown submarine raises tensions in Baltic region”. One could be forgiven to think it was Sweden who has practiced air strikes against neighboring countries… This brings up an important point, which has become increasingly clear since the start of the invasion of Crimea earlier this year: Russian media and officials cannot be trusted to objectively tell the truth. Instead, there has been a number of cases were Russian authorities, including Vladimir Putin, has told outright lies, which have been repeated by Russian media without any kind of critical analysis. The list includes such clear-cut cases as the statement that there were no Russian soldiers in Crimea (later confirmed by Putin himself) and that a Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack plane would have shot down MH17 (when the Russian aircraft manufacturer themselves state that the plane can’t reach the altitude MH17 flew on). HeadlinesThis is in line with what experts in the west has stated about the Russian view of the use of media in psychological warfare [1], [2], [3], and this can in turn be connected to an increasing number of reports about the systematic use of social media to spread fabricated stories [4 see also list of recommended reading at end of source]. Bottomline: unfortunately, due to the above mentioned recent events and a long negative trend with regards to freedom of press in Russia, western media must stop its use of Russian media and authorities as a source of equal value to their western counterparts. To go back to the story above, YLE quoted the Russian Defence Ministry stating that the Swedes should be looking for the Bruinvis, and then quoted the negative answer by Dutch authorities in a way that gives both the sources the same value. In my opinion, this is clearly not in line with good journalistic conduct. A journalist should indeed strive to present both sides of a story, but not all sources are created equal, and a failure to properly explain this gives the casual reader a tilted view of the story.