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.


Some Reflections on the Stockholm “Subhunt”

In the media the current intelligence operation south of Stockholm has been described as the Swedish Navy searching for (or even hunting) “a Russian submarine”. I would like to point out that the picture might be quite a bit more complex. As said earlier, out of respect for the fact that it is an ongoing operation and the possible need for OPSEC, I will not include any attempts at an OOB.

The Swedish Defence Forces yesterday (Friday the 17th of October) stated that during the day they had received information from a reliable source about “foreign underwater activity”. As a response to this, the Swedish Defence Forces have decided to conduct an intelligence gathering operation in the area, with sea, air and land units.

The “foreign underwater activity” was immediately translated into “Russian submarine” by the media. There are Russian submarines in the Baltic Sea, namely the two ‘Kilo’-class submarines B-227 Vyborg and B-806 Dmitrov of Projects 877 and 877EKM respectively.

However, there are a number of other possible explanations.

The possibility of Russian divers and/or light underwater equipment has to be accounted for. This could include midget submarines or diver propulsion vehicles, with either a supporting land-based unit, or support from ships/submarines in international waters. Possible missions include intelligence gathering, e.g. with regards to the ability of the Swedish units to detect and respond to incursions of this kind. This kind of mission would most probably go to Russian naval Spetsnaz units, which made headline during the 2008 war in Georgia when they apparently entered into the port of Poti and destroyed the majority of the surface units of the small Georgian Navy.

Another possibility is that some other country sent a submarine into the area.

Polish Project 877E ‘Kilo’-class submarine ORP Orzeł (291), outwardly similar to the submarines of Russia’s Baltic Fleet. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Poland operates a single Project 877E ’Kilo’-class as well as four German-designed Ex-Norwegian Type 207 ’Kobben’-class submarines. All are of the diesel-electric type, meaning they are extremely quiet when submerged, but have to go up to the surface and recharge their batteries every now and then. Although the submarines are somewhat dated, they still constitute a very proficient striking force.

Germany has continued its long and proud tradition as builder of submarines. Currently its submarine force consists of four Type 212 A submarines based in Eckernförde, close to Kiel. These are some of the most modern submarines in the world, being so called AIP-submarines (air independent), meaning that thanks to their hydrogen fuel-cells they don’t have to surface regularly.

Neither the three Baltic countries nor Denmark has any submarines left. Sweden has three Gotland-class and two Södermanland-class AIP-submarines, but these are naturally not part of the equation. However, the Netherlands currently has a single Walrus-class submarine in the Baltic Sea, which has taken part in exercise Northern Archer together with the Swedish units now scanning the waters south of Stockholm. As far as I know, no details about its route home have been published.

It is possible that some of these countries have decided to test the Swedish response to underwater incursions. It could have been a unilateral decision by the country in question, or as a proposal/request/idea from some kind of higher-level NATO forum. The purpose in that case would most probably be intelligence gathering, to get a validated picture of the Swedish response and capabilities in case of a Russian incursion, where the secondary goals could include highlighting these deficits in capability to the Swedish politicians and general public. The Navy is already well aware of its (lack of) capabilities.

This would naturally be a very high-risk operation politically, as getting publicly caught with your submarine in the territorial waters of a friendly country is not desirable, to put it mildly. To lessen the risk, a similar operation could naturally be launched with divers as discussed above in the case of Russian units.

I will not rank any of these scenarios as to what is most likely, but bear in mind, there are a lot of things happening under the surface of the Baltic Sea about which we know very little.

Edit 18/10/2014 18:15 (GMT +2): On the press conference that just finished, it became clear that the Swedish navy increases number of units involved in intelligence operation outside Stockholm, stresses focus is on intelligence NOT on subhunt. They still believe the original intel about foreign underwater activity was “very reliable”, and declines to comment on “What further circumstantial evidence we have received”. No further specifics were revealed.