October 25, 2014

Suspected Russian Mini Submarine, Divers? in Swedish Waters

The red pointer marks the site of suspected Russian submarine and/or diver activity in mid October 2014. The close proximity to Stockholm may indicate this is part of a agent drop-off or pick-up activity. Or it maybe connected to Russian electronic monitoring of nearby naval exercises, monitoring Stockholm's own telecommunications grid or tapping an undersea cable.

The many rocks and islets in Swedish waters mean complex and dangerous undersea obstructions and currents for any submarine crew unfamiliar with the conditions.  

The Piranha ("Losos") class mini submarine (or an updated version) may displace 220 tons surfaced - making it suited to closed waters - although more susceptible to currents. 
More detail on Piranha (Project 865, NATO - Losos). Photos courtesy of Covert Warfare Naval Blog.

An interesting feature of Piranha-Losos is the two tubular storage bins for diver propulsion devices (2 divers per device) which give the Piranha-Losos a characteristic hump back. It can also launch two torpedo-like diver propulsion devices . Such devices (see Sirena UME in diagram above) are suited to even shallower water and for easy diver deployment onto rocks, islets or into inlets and beaches near Stockholm.  

With Piranha-Losos entering service in the the early 1990s, these were purpose built special operations craft. The post-Soviet Russian Navy did not see the need to operate dedicated craft and they were discarded in the early 2000's after attempts to sell them abroad were unsuccessful despite considerable interest in the design. 

However Russia's resurgent military and intelligence goals under Putin may have included new mini-submarine and diver propulsion device projects. New, more stealthy, developments of the Piranha may have been completed. The necessary development trials may well have required increasingly realistic exercises. 

Was the activity off Stockholm one such evercise or was it a full operation?

Two Piranha-Losos mini-subs - with the load carry storage bins very obvious.  As well as diver propulsion devises such storage bins are capable of carrying torpedos or mines.

The starboard storage bin tray is seen with two Protei-5 diver propulsion devices. Photo: rcmodelsubmarines.co.uk
Characteristics of the Piranha-Losos mini-submarine: Length - 28.2 meters, Width - 4.8m, Displacement - 218 tons surfaced, 319 tons submerged, Speed - 7 kts surfaced, submerged speed unknown. Crew - 3 submariners + 6 (divers, other special forces or agents).


I think it very likely Sweden and NATO early on had a clear idea of what type of Russian submarine(s) or divers-frogmen (if any) were involved in this latest embarrassment. Active sonar on many platforms and many other types of sensor modes would have effectively "shaped" the Russian underwater activity. Also the many technical characteristics of the Russian emergency transmissions would have pointed to the type of Russian sub or diver modes involved. 

It is more a Swedish-Russian diplomatic matter that Sweden has not divulged full details. Many of the details will be authorised-leaked in time - maybe years. 

The suspected Russian submarine (or divers) that making a distress call in Swedish waters may be a Russian  Piranha mini special forces submarine, Triton-NN or other mini submarine. Swimming divers in trouble?

The close proximity to Stockholm may indicate:

-  this is part of a agent drop-off or pick-up activity or

-   maybe connected to Russian electronic monitoring of nearby naval exercises, of Stockholm's own telecommunications grid or monitoring an undersea cable.

Less likely are full sized submarines being directly involved rather than acting as mother-ships, launch points for a diver-propulsion vehicle:

- a Russian Kilo class conventionally propelled submarine somehow involved? A Russian Kilo Class submarine - at up to 2,350 tons surfaced probably too large to operate safely in  the restricted littorals off Stockholm. Russia's more advanced Lada class submarine(s) are likely to be equally large. or

- a Lada class submarine (B-585 Saint Petersburg) involved. In which case its developing Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system may have technically malfunctioned? or

- much less likely a nuclear propelled submarine such as the Akula class SSN involved.

Any Kilo, Lada or special forces mini-submarine would likely be from Russia's Baltic Fleet base at the enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast (bordered by the Baltic, Poland in the south and Lithuania in the north) and fairly close to Stockholm.


Suspected Russian submarines have made many embarrassing forays into Swedish waters in the past.

As usual Wikipedia proves invaluable - see entry within  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_submarine_incidents#List_of_major_reported_incidents:

"October 17-23, 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 region.[13][14][15][16] On 19 October the military said there had been three separate sightings and released a picture of the unidentified submarine to the public.[17] 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.[18] 

Several days later, the hunt was still on as officials were certain that foreign underwater operations were still ongoing.[19] More than 100 sightings were now reported, said Supreme Commander Göransson.[20] Paul Schwartz at Center for Stategic International Studies, CSIS, said the photograph could be a Russian Lada-class submarine.[21]"



Joakim Wohlfeil said...

As I regulary sail the waters in question i think we can rule out any conventional sub.
Also, it´s relevant to remind that a manouverable sub has all the advantages for the moment if they don´t behave extremely contraproductive. The underwater terrain is extremely hilly, with Sharp Cliffs and underwater stone walls. The depth even between the + 25000 islands in the Stockholm arcipelago can suddendly sometimes exeed 300 feet (like the in the Mojafjard) combined with multiple temerature and salt layers.
Still, a conventiuonal sub ´, type Lada would easily get in trouble having to pass narrow passages on it´s way in and out to the areas of the sightnings. Also any possible intriusion was helped by the fact the fixed magnetic and acustical lines was disabled due to the low level of threat that has been estimated for many years and it was not possible to activate the listenings post´s (like the Malsten stastion: https://www.google.se/search?q=m%C3%A4lsten&biw=1280&bih=855&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=lJJKVNSZCYW8ygPM54G4BA&sqi=2&ved=0CB8QsAQ#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=0LNpC3cdVf-aWM%253A%3BlU3Eai2-jqbzPM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fi43.tinypic.com%252F1569x09.png%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fforum.skalman.nu%252Fviewtopic.php%253Ff%253D22%2526t%253D40534%3B500%3B334)rapidly enought.
Today the navy said they did call in all major surface uniti as they expect that a posible underwater craft has left the area. And they will now work with analyze, it´s also relevant that the only official message from the navu had been that they are investigating sightings from the public, where they claim that ca 4 sightings (one including the released photo) out of hundreds has been relevant to motivate a further investigation.
All speculations on nationality, type of underwater activity, type of Craft etc has been done by media or politicians.

Vigilis said...

Very nice coverage of the Swede's search episode, Pete.

Cheers! Vig

Pete said...

Hi Joakim Wohlfeil

Thanks for your first hand information and knowledge of the undersea conditions. It confirms that I'm on the right track.

That link you've provided about the Malsten station SOSUS and magnetic anomaly arrays is interesting. So have they been de-activated since the Cold War? And presumably reactivated with newer sensors? With such capabilities the Swedish defence force would presumably already know a lot about any Russian incursion?

Here is another relevant link http://books.google.com.au/books?id=cN-ETroO0zEC&pg=PA81&lpg=PA81&dq=Malsten+station&source=bl&ots=nl156cfh1h&sig=1cMjfUCOnQcnNPj-ZWZnSMbUQcI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yFhLVMTEJM-68gXfmoHQCw&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Malsten%20station&f=false

I assume members of the public saw some submarine activity making it a public issue. If Swedish Defence alone knew about it Defence may have kept the whole matter secret.



Pete said...

Thanks Vigilis

I especially appreciate praise and other comments from someone who has been a submariner - like you.