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.

A BK-16 and a not-so-secret marina

An interesting picture came to my attention yesterday, showing Rybinsk Shipyard’s BK-16 fast assault craft in an undisclosed small naval marina. Extremely little footage of the BK-16 in service have appeared, so finding one at what looks like a makeshift base warrants a closer study.

A number of vessels, including possibly another BK-16 and a midget submarine, are also present under covers. After some time of looking at satellite maps of Russian and Crimean shores, a picture search, and some discussions with my wife regarding the vegetation around the Black Sea, Baltic Sea, and Russian inland, we managed to locate the likely spot. It seems to be situated in Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula. What is interesting is that an earlier picture of the area shows it seemingly being a civilian boat workshop. Now it is clearly in military use, as evident not only by the increased number of vessels, but also by the hoisted naval ensign and the dark green trucks parked between the two buildings.

BK-16
The likely location from where the picture was taken with some key identifying features marked. Satellite picture from Google Maps

That Russia has taken to using former civilian facilities in Sevastopol, long the main base of the Black Sea Fleet and by extension the main logistical hub for the operations in the Mediterranean and Syria, is perhaps the most interesting fact here. The equipment seems to point towards a smaller unit of marine infantry, possibly a reconnaissance and/or special forces unit. Either there has been such a rapid expansion of units stationed in Crimea since the Russian occupation started that units with a smaller logistical footprint has had to move out of the main facilities, or then this is an attempt to keep the operations of this unit outside of the spotlight. Note that even the rusty fence in the foreground has not been mended since the first picture, meaning that the facilities seems to have been taken over ‘as is’. This might indicate the navy’s stay being only temporary, or it is another sign of the navy trying to keep a low profile (if so, not hoisting the St Andrew’s flag might have been a good idea). Another really interesting question is obviously if there really is a midget submarine under the tarpaulin, and if so, has it been used operationally in the Black Sea?

Update on the Red October-incident

Yesterday I published a brief text pointing out that not all submarines in the Baltic Sea are Russian, and that not all underwater activity is submarines. This will be a brief update on what has happened since.

The major news was when Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported that a signal emerging from the archipelago outside of Stockholm had been sent on a Russian Navy distress channel. When the search operation got underway, there was renewed traffic, which was encrypted, and a transmitter located in Russian Kaliningrad answered. This was the first evidence that decidedly pointed towards Russia as the country of origin. This could also explain the, in my opinion, rather strong and decisive response by the Swedish Navy when the first visual sightings occurred.

Representatives of the Swedish Defence Forces have denied that they have received knowledge about a distress signal, although the exact wording leaves the possibility open that A) the info has been distributed on a strict need-to-know basis, and as such is not available to the officers involved in the operation, or B) the interpretation that a signal on a known foreign military channel used for distress signals does not equal a known distress signal. They have also clearly stated that they do not know the country of origin or exact nature of the underwater activity, and as such they will continue to refer to it simply as “foreign underwater activity”. Most importantly, it has been confirmed that three visual sightings have taken place, and that the operation will continue for a number of days. Imagery from one of the sightings has also been released. The picture is grainy, but could be interpreted to show some kind of a midget submarine, e.g. the Russian Triton NN.

One of the pictures released by the Swedish Defence Forces, showing a man made object traveling on the surface, before vanishing under it. Source: http://www.forsvarsmakten.se

The question of where the mother ship is located has been focused on the Russian-owned Liberian-flagged crude carrier NS Concord. The ship has been anchored outside of St Petersburg since the beginning of May, acting as a floating storage. Last week, it set sail and sailed to a position right outside the border of Swedish territorial waters, where it has since loitered. To begin with its AIS-data gave the destination as Danish Straits, but today this was changed to Primorsk. When the tanker suddenly found itself in the limelight, the Russian research/sea survey vessel Professor Logachev suddenly headed out to sea, destined for Las Palmas(?). It remains to be seen if this vessel will make a stop outside of Stockholm, but the timing seems somewhat suspicious. The Logachev also happened(?) to be traveling in the middle of the three-ship Dutch naval flotilla heading home from Tallinn, with the Walrus-class submarine HNLMS Bruinvis probably not far away either.

In Finland Charly Salonius-Pasternak, Sr. Research Fellow at FIIA, noted that Finland’s stance on the issue will be noted in Sweden, and called for our politicians to make a clear statement in support of Sweden. Otherwise it will affect the possible deepening of Swedish-Finnish military co-operation.

This in turn made Carl Haglund (SFP/RKP), Minister of Defence, answer that we will wait and see, and that if the allegations are true, this is “very serious”. On a direction question he said that we are currently not planning any assistance to the Swedish Navy, but if an official call for help comes, he would personally view it favorably. With regards to what kind of help we could send, he stated that options remains open, and would depend on what kind of assistance the Swedish authorities would be asking for. Salonius-Pasternak in turn noted that one can offer help even before someone asks for it, but this remark went unanswered.

As a further note, the hashtag #redoctober has become widely used with regards to the incident.