UPDATED 21 OCTOBER 2014 | Swedish naval, land and air forces scrambled on Friday evening 17 October 2014 for a sudden red alert. Unfriendly underwater activity was spotted in the vast Stockholm archipelago. On Tuesday 21 October the operation is still ongoing and might take at least another week. Among the forces deployed are several Agusta A109 (HKP 15) anti-submarine helicopters. Together with other units they search for Russian military activity just a few tens of miles of the centre the Swedish capital.
According to sources within the Swedish defence ministry an object visually spotted in the water triggered the alarm bells. Some sources say a Russian military transmitter in use by Russian special underwater forces was picked up from the water by a Swedish naval unit. During a press conference on Sunday evening 19 October Swedish Read-Admiral Anders Grenstad said that visual observation were made with a moving submersible object as well; on three different moments: Friday in Kanholmsfjärden and Nämndöfjärden and Sunday in the Jungfrufjärden. A fjärd is a bay on the eastern (Swedish) part of Scandinavia, a fjord a bay on the western (Norwegian) part. On Monday 20 October the search moved further south to Danziger Gatt, closer to the ferry harbour of Nynäshamn. The area includes the naval base of Muskö.
Two more sightings of possibly the same underwater object were made on Monday: near Ingarö / Fågelbrolandet and in the area around Nåttarö further south. Air support on Tuesday came from a Swedish Coast Guard (Kustbevakningen) Bombardier Dash 8 Q-300 KBV 501 that was seen overflying the search area. All non-military/non-Coast Guard vessels are ordered to keep at least a 1000 metres (3,280 feet) distance from any military vessel in the area. Armed Swedish marines reportedly search island by island in some areas.
The Swedish Ministry of Defence briefly ordered no-go zone for ships, but also installed a more permanent no-fly zone up to 4,000 feet (1,300 m) covering an area of 40 by 60 km (30 – 50 miles) near Nynäshamn and about 10 by 20 km (8 to 16 miles) near Sandhamn further north. Only police, rescue armed forces aircraft are allowed in those areas, officially to keep the HKP 15 chopper activities in the area safe. The no-fly zone does not have any negative impact on the regular passenger traffic to/from Stockholm-Bromma and Stockholm-Arlanda. Airheadsfly.com has at this time no information if Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripen planes are airborne to enforce the no-fly zone if necessary.
Despite the fact that the HKP 15s can deploy hydrophones and can be equipped with torpedos Sweden seem to miss their TV star of the 1980s and 1990s when Boeing-Vertol CH-46 Sea Knights were the primary asset to find enemy subs. It even earned them the nickname “submarine hunter” within the Swedish Armed Forces. But the choppers – serving under designation HKP 4 – were decommissioned in 2009.
Experts believe it could be a submersible boat designed to bring special forces with diving gear on land, like a Triton type of diving boat known to be in use with the Russians. According to information published by defence expert Mikael Holmström of the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet – normally very well and reliably informed – the Swedish defence radio intelligence agency FRA observed contact between a Russian transmitter in Kanholmsfjärden, just of the coast of mainland Sweden about 25 miles (30 km) from Stockholm’s city centre, and a military radio (relay) station in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
But during the Sunday evening press conference Rear-Admiral Grenstadt did not give any such information. Despite the fact that several armed units have been dispatched and helicopters have been seen circling overhead the admiral calls the current military operation one of an “intelligence” kind, to see where the “likely foreign underwater activity” took place or is now. The high-ranking officers denies it is a “submarine hunt” and says no distress signals were received. But admiral Grenstad also says it could turn into a submarine hunt, but that would mean “resources like helicopters” – which actually have been seen and photographed by several professional and amateur photographers during the last few days. In short: a rather confusing and contradicting series of statements.
Very reliable source
Swedish Minister of Defence Peter Hultqvist, just on the job for less than two weeks, initially only confirmed that military got reports from “a very reliable source” that one or more man made objects were observed underneath the surface of the waters off the Stockholm coast. Mr. Hultqvist did not say what those objects were or which country might have been behind it, but it is a standard phrasing for a submarine.
Eye-witnesses report seeing several defence helicopters flying over an area, as well as at least a dozen boats and vessels; including the stealth corvette K31 Visby, corvette K11 Stockholm, corvette K24 Sundsvall, mine-counter vessel M76 Ven, mine-counter vessel M74 Kullen, support vessel A264 Trössö, several machine gun armed fast combat boats (Stridsbåt 90) and support/transport vessel HMS Loke. Official sources say about 200 troops and navy crew searched the entire first night, supported by several units on the mainland. Finding a possible underwater object, submarine or other, is difficult in the area of operations as the place is littered with small islands and rock chunks.
During the whole of Saturday and Sunday nothing had been found. Sunday morning the search area was expanded, moved somewhat south and started to focus on the possibility that a small number Russian special forces might be somewhere on the many islands in the Stockholm archipelago. Russia denies any military operation is going on and says that none of its military boats is in trouble.
Mysterious oil tanker
Swedish government officials did confirm they are aware that a large Russian oil tanker with official destination the waters between Norway and Denmark is present just outside territorial waters in the Baltic. What this NS Concord is doing near Sweden since Wednesday is unknown, but one theory is that the vessel has been adapted to support Russian submarine activities, probably small subs. It movements are what strange, as it has been seen on maritime radar moving in irrational north-south patterns and turning its transponder on and off every once in a while. However, owner SCF Novoship sent out a press release on 20 October saying the vessel just waits between 14 and 25 nautical mile from the Swedish territorial waters waiting for its planned docking in the Russian harbour of Primorsk, from where it will transport oil to the United States.
Russian research vessel
Another bit of speculation is what the mission is of the Russian underwater research vessel Professor Logachev that left the port of St. Petersburg and headed into the Baltic Sea. The ship was last seen on public maritime radar being shadowed by the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate F805 Evertsen, of which is known it has a NH90 helicopter on board. According to the Dutch Ministry of Defence nothing extraordinary is happening, while the frigate is returning home together with offshore patrol vessel P841 Zeeland and supply vessel A836 Amsterdam from a port visit to Tallinn in Estonia.
The Swedish Navy just practiced procedures last week in the Baltic Sea, against the small Royal Netherlands Navy group that also included the frigate F803 Tromp and the diesel-driven Dutch submarine S810 Bruinvis. The vessels visited Stockholm in the second weekend of October. Russia even made use of the confusion started in Swedish and Norwegian press that the RNLN Bruinvis was the cause of it all, which was then copy/pasted by loads of media who rushed the news without double-checking what the real whereabouts of the Bruinvis were: the harbour of Tallinn in Estonia.
During the 1980s Swedish forces regularly went sub hunting, believing it were Russian predators on the coast. However, a lot of times it were US Navy subs testing Swedish defences. Lately Sweden is moving closer to NATO and at the same time has to deal with more Russian activity, like the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker “bodycheck” on a Swedish Air Force jet in July.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger