Details remain sketchy, but something is clearly afoot off the coast of Stockholm Sweden, where a large search and intelligence operation is underway involving ships, from small riverine craft to stealthy Visby Class Corvettes, aircraft and over 200 operators. Something of great interest is under the water, and it may be a Russian submarine in trouble.
Swedish officials are referring to this flash search operation as a response to "foreign underwater activity." Meanwhile, there were said to have been sightings of a strange object prowling the complex archipelago off the Swedish coast last Friday. Around the same time, sources say that Sweden intercepted Russian radio traffic on a channel that is reserved for emergencies. Then later, another transmission was said to have been intercepted, this time encrypted. However, Swedish intelligence agencies were able to get a ballpark idea of where it was coming from and where the source on the other end's location was—which turned out to be off the Swedish coast near Stockholm and around Kaliningrad, the home of Russia's Baltic fleet.
The Russian Kilo Class diesel electric submarine, although not a new design by any means, is well adapted for operating in the littoral areas of the Baltic Sea:
Swedish military officials state an incredibly good source also passed them a tip that something was afoot in their littoral waters, which prompted the response that is now ongoing and increasing in the area.
Another part of these strange happenings on and below the Baltic Sea surrounds peculiar maneuvers made by a Russian operated, Liberian flagged tanker. The tanker had been loitering for some time off the Swedish coast before it started doing circles not too far from where all this is going down. Then, this weekend, it suddenly steamed off towards the east. Some speculate the ship could be supporting a clandestine mission potentially having to do with the submarine in question.
Midget submarines, which are smaller than even the diminutive diesel-electric attack designs, can be deployed clandestinely in multiple ways. They can even be transported, launched and recovered via the underside of a larger ship. They are the ideal platform for short-range espionage missions, such as inserting personnel or planting listening devices in major waterways. Russia has had a resurgent interest in these pint-sized submersibles and are said to have put an updated design into production in recent years.
This all comes as the neighborly situation in and around the Baltic Sea has deteriorated greatly in the past few months. Russian fighter and attack aircraft have been chasing NATO aircraft out of the area and in some cases they themselves have breached territorial boundaries. Just a couple weeks ago, a Swedish electronic intelligence gather Gulfstream jet was patrolling the area in international airspace when an SU-27 came within a stone's throw of its wing, which resulted in some spectacular photographs but a very shaken crew.
Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist described the rapidly escalating situation between Russia and its neighbors to The Guardian recently:
"What's been happening in the Baltic Sea, including airspace incursions, shows that we have a new, changed situation," he said. "Russia has made enormous military investments … with their increased strength they are training more, and that influences the security environment."
Russian Submarine mishaps are not unheard of in the area, the famous "Whisky On The Rocks" incident of 1981 being the most notable, during which a geriatric Russian Whisky Class attack sub ran aground in Swedish waters. It was an international incident that featured a nail-biting standoff loosely reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, although not nearly as volatile in magnitude.
As for Russia's Baltic fleet submarine forces, they include a handful of diesel-electric Kilo Class subs, which are capable in littoral environments, and one very advanced Lada Class submarine. The only one of its type and the most advanced diesel submarine in the entire Russian Navy, the Saint Petersburg features air-independent propulsion (AIP), allowing it to stay submerged for far longer than traditional diesel-electric submarines and is thought to be the quietest submarine in the entire Russian Navy. She was officially declared fully operational this year.
The Lada Class submarine Saint Petersburg:
This situation will be very interesting to see play out. Considering how tense things have been with Russia, and how willing President Putin has been when it comes to rattling his saber, if indeed a Russian sub has become immobilized in Swedish territorial waters, there is a good bet such an event will only deepen the chasm that continues to grow between Europe and Russia.
We will keep you posted as the story develops.
Top shot and sailboat shot and lase shot via AP, other shots via public domain & government release.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com