August 17, 2015

Baltic Sea Submarine Operations - Russia, Swedeen and Finland.

 In the map above the lighter the blue the shallower the water. The average depth of the Baltic Sea is 53 meters but the maximum depth is 459 meters. 459 meters is more than deep enough for submarines to hide in - if they choose the right hiding places - and those hiding places do not conceal the presence of an opponent's sea-floor (or tethered) sensors. (Map courtesy European Environment Agency)

The Baltic Sea presents a challenging and dangerous submarine operating area in peacetime due to its undersea geography. This geography includes overall shallow and highly variable sea depths, many rocks and islands making for many narrows and rocks to get stuck in or collide with. However there  also many sea-floor depressions/variations to hide in.

In peacetime and wartime the intensity of ASW surveillance makes submarine operations on the surface and even at snorting depth dangerous. In Baltic operations quiet on-battery and/or on-AIP operation may be essential. It is probably no coincidence that the two nations that have developed the most efficient and commercially successful AIP systems (Germany (with fuel cell) and Sweden (Stirling engine)) may well spend most of their operating time in the Baltic.

The approaches to sea bases and coastal cities/ports frequently have sensor protections using  undersea arrays such as:

-  Malsten station (old probably non-operational hydrophones/sonar and magnetic anomaly) and much more operational, modern and geographically dispersed equipment

-  approaches to Helsinki Harbour (hydrophones/sonar, magnetic anomaly and more modern sensors)

-  Russian Baltic Fleet Base at Kaliningrad Enclave much more extensive and intensive. Few details about Russian hydrophones escape the Russian information censors. Naturally Russians submarines have many types of ASW sensors and the Russian Northern Fleet deploys test sensors

Russian Submarine Operations

Little seems to be known in the open-source world about Russian submarine operations in the Baltic.  Russian Kilo submarines and even Russia's one or two Ladas appear unsuited due to their relatively large size and lack of (known) AIP.

Russia, of course, has relied on highly developed nuclear propulsion solution for its AIP-like needs. But the Baltic is the wrong environment for nuclear propulsion as nuclear is assumed to be noisier than AIP, tends to preference large submarine solutions far heavier than 2,000 tons (surfaced), promotes speed which is a major danger in Baltic operations and nuclear submarines are an expensive asset to be at risk from highly intensive Baltic ASW forces and dangerous natural geography of the Baltic.

Russia submarines may well have been detected by Baltic countries hundreds of times since 1945 carrying out what look suspiciously like intelligence gathering missions in those countries territorial waters. The number of Russian submarines publically reported may well have been kept secret from Baltic and international publics due to:

-  the need to keep secret the efficiency of anti-submarine sensors (including sea-floor arrays) in detecting Russian (or friendly countries)

-  the much greater political, economic and military power of Russia compared to all other Baltic counties. Non-NATO Baltic countries Sweden and Finland are particularly careful not to offend the Russian giant by publically identifying clearly Russian submarine acoustic signatures and radio transmissions.

-  normal diplomatic practice which keeps sensitive international issues secret

-  the natural secrecy of Governments-Navies relating to all submarine operations

-  for a defending Navy (like Sweden's) to be publically seen as unable to counter submarine intelligence gathering against one's country can be embarrassing all round.

-  as the weaker country, compared to Russia, Sweden is forced by Russia or finds it more politically convenient, to recant and deny there was any Russian submarine incursion in the first place

Note how the detection and weaker country recanting process plays out in Russia vs SwedeOctober 17-24, 2014:

"A large military operation is launched to search for an allegedly damaged submarine in Kanholmsfjärden in the Stockholm archipelago. Encrypted transmissions sent on an emergency radio frequency used by Russian units were recorded. The sources of the transmissions were identified as a submarine and a military site in the Kaliningrad [Russian Naval Base] region.[14][15][16][17] On 19 October [2014] the military said there had been three separate sightings and released a [photograph] of the unidentified submarine to the public.[18] There were also suggestions that the Russian Oil-tanker NS Concord was involved as a mother-ship for smaller underwater vehicles as it maintained a pattern of criss-crossing outside Stockholm during the investigation.[19] A Russian research ship equipped with a submarine holding bay, R/V Professor Logachev,[20][21] was also in the area and turned off its location transponder.[22][23] 

Several days later, the hunt was still on as [Swedish] officials were certain that foreign underwater operations were still ongoing.[24] More than 100 sightings were now reported, said [Swedish]  Supreme Commander Göransson.[25] Paul Schwartz at Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, said the photograph could be a Russian Lada-class submarine.[26] Sources later said it was certainly at least one mini-submarine and that advanced image analysis "reveals part of a submarine superstructure with two masts behind it".[27] On April 2015 Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad has told Swedish newspapers that the Armed Forces reported to the Swedish government that [despite the mountain of evidence] the suspected underwater vessel was in fact only a civilian “working boat” [Such is the need to deceive for bilateral relations between the Russian giant and its weaker Baltic neighbours].[28]"

This October 2014 Submarine Matters article contains more detailed descriptions of recent  Russian mini-submarines in the Baltic.

Tomorrow some surprisingly advanced Russian UUVs will be revealed.



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

I heard that Germany Navy gave up new order of Type 212A submarine because of the low rate of operation. For the view point of recent Russian submarine activities and geo-political meaning, I cannot understand this low rates of operation. In fact Type 212A with excellent non-magnetic hull is the most suitable submarine for operation in the very shallow Baltic Sea and German government is very rich and does not have financial deficit like Japan.


Anonymous said...

Hi Pete!
Many media take the okt 2014 as one incident.

On the first occation, proof was on at least one smaller under water vessel.
Tracks on the oceanfloor was showed to the public.
That's facts presented by Sweden officially.
Next incident, the one with the blurry picture is a different story.
The pic was taken by a former millitary that actually was hunting submarines when active.

The Swedish millitary never found proof that the pic was on a submarine. The former subhunter is 100% sure.

Many are thoose who do not belive the offically story of the second incident.

The first incident is 16-22 okt. The second one is on the 31 and much, much closer to the capitol Stockholm.
First incident:

Second incident:

Best regards

Nicky said...

HI Pete,
Just like the Baltic Sea, where Small submarines like the Gotland class SSK and Type 212A class Submarine can operate very well in those waters. Waters like the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Thailand Andaman sea require submarines to be small and be able to operate in the Littoral environment. That's why Germany and Sweden can build Submarines that can operate in the shallow waters, littoral waters and even the deep blue ocean as well.

Which is why in the case of Thailand, they don't need a Yuan class Submarine cause the Submarine is too large for their Waters. What they really need is something on the order of the Gotland class SSK, Type 212A class SSK, A26 class SSK, Södermanland-class submarine and Type 210Mod class SSK. They need a small submarine that can operate very well in the Shallow waters, littoral waters. Be their ISTR platform and act as a listening outpost.

Peter Coates said...

Hi S

Did you read about the German Type 212A's "low rate of operation" in a news report? If so what is the string for the news report.

By "low rate of operation" do you mean:

- low availability rate or
- low rate of mission deployments?

Could Germany simply have as many 212s as it needs at present?

Note that the German submarine service also works with the Dutch, Norwegian and probaly Swedish submarine services. German ASW platforms, including fixed undersea arrays, may further effect "rate of operations" issues.



Peter Coates said...

Hi TTAero

The issue of who saw what in late 2014 - in Swedish waters - has become a contentious issue with claims, counter-claims and contradictions.

For instance . There appeared to be a second submarine sighting public mania - but then more experienced observers also had more convincing sightings.

The upshot is the Swedish Navy is made to look stupid



Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky

The difference between the Baltic and Thailand's submarine wants/needs are:

- the Baltic countries have a 100 years of continual submarine experience, know what they want, and are prepared to pay for it

- Thailand is not on all counts.



Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

Question “Did you read about the German Type 212A's "low rate of operation" in a news report? If so what is the string for the news report.”
I read some articles on this issue including low rate of operation in elsewhere (I could not find this article again).
[1] (German)
[2] In “Modernizing Submarine Forces”, you can find“The Original plan was to construct a total of eight Type 212 vessels, but January 2004, German Defense Ministry announced that no more submarines would be ordered until 2016.”

Question “By "low rate of operation" do you mean:”
Answer No idea, sorry.

Question “Could Germany simply have as many 212s as it needs at present?”
Answer Six 212As[3], but latest U35 and U36 have some troubles[4,5].
[3],d.dGY page27. Six 212A submarines (U31-U36) are listed.


Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Right address of reference [3]“The German Navy – Fact and Figure” in my comment (August 19, 2015 at 1:04 AM) is as follows.


Peter Coates said...

Hi S [at August 19, 2015 at 1:04 AM and August 19, 2015 at 8:09 AM]

I see you are making good use of German sources :)


[2010 article] So it seemed in 2010 that due to austerity-cost cutting measures, the German Navy would be reduced from 6 submarines (212As) to just 4 submarines. But each submarine would have two crews (as in the US Blue crew and Gold crew system)

[2] This 2011 report says all six 212A will be retained but 12 submarines would be strategically better. Only six 212A for the German Navy will be built.

I located which indicate that the 5th and 6th subs of the six (U-35 and U-36) are having major problems with their propulsion systems including the generator of electricity for the batteries, radar and the radio antenna buoy known as Callisto. The Navy report also noted that the hood on the cook’s stove is too small and therefore cooking smoke spreads out from the galley-kitchen.

Thanks for

It is a good summary of the German Navy including the Submarine Squadron.



Anonymous said...

It might have been Putin himself in one of those subs ;-)

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

Yes if we time the descent of Putin's tiny bite-sized mini-sub in front of a pod of excited humpback wales - they may just bang into him



MHalblaub said...

Dear S and Pete,

the decision to order only 6 Type 212A submarines was made in 2004. That was even before the first submarine U31 was introduced into service. The reduction in 2004 was a so called "peace dividend".

The article of 2010 is nonsense. The old Type 206 were decommissioned earlier due to export reasons. Several foreign Navies were interested into these small submarines. Only Columbia bought two with two others reserved for spare parts. Thailand made a big error not to choose them.

U35 und U36 of the second Type 212A batch have some trouble. The buoy Callisto did not work properly on U35 and the testing was deferred to U36. The batteries of U35 were not up to the specifications but not something to worry about. As some acceptance tester stated "not bad for a battery but not good for a new one". The battery will be replaced at expense of the manufacturer during the next big inspection.

The problems for U35 and U36 are minor ones and U36 is still on acceptance trails. No problems with the diesel engines, the AIP, the seals, the sonar system, the command and control system, ... but the German Navy wants even minor problems to be fixed before final acceptance.


Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub

I suppose the German Navy calculated that 6 x 212As (each being 3 times the displacement/capability of the 206s) more than replaced the 206s Germany used in the Cold War.

So with a more threatening Putin now the "peace dividend" years are firmly over. Is anyone in Germany seriously pressing for more than the 6 212As?

Or is highly utilization (Blue-Gold crewing) of the 6 seen as a useful response?

I imagine the batteries are the most serious problem for U35 and 36 but surely future U37 and U38 will have Li-ion batteries? Having the cook's stove hood as a submarine defect sounds pretty minor.

"the German Navy wants even minor problems to be fixed before final acceptance." is a useful idea that the RAN should practice with our Future Subs.

I see SAAB's A26 Page 15 is set to be 1,800 tonnes surfaced and have a MULTIMISSION PORTAL™ . Do you think the German Navy's next class of subs will go in the same (larger and MULTIMISSION PORTAL™) direction?