Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Coastal ASW - yes, it's that hard

Like many of you, I've been enjoying trying to read between the lines over the weekend as Sweden plays hide-n-seek with their old nemesis, Russia.
There are fears of Russians and it is October, but it's not a Tom Clancy novel. It is a case of international naval intrigue off the Swedish coast that brings back memories of the Cold War.

The Swedish military on Monday intensified a search in the ocean off Stockholm for an underwater mystery vessel, but stopped short of calling it a submarine. Civilian vessels were ordered to stay at least six miles (about 10 kilometers) away from the Swedish warship conducting the search, the English-language website The Local reported.

The search began Thursday after Swedish intelligence picked up an emergency radio call in Russian, reported The Local, citing the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

The radio transmissions were being sent to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, 330 miles (530 kilometers) south of Stockholm on the Baltic's southern shore, according to The Local report.

There were also reports that a foreign vessel was spotted in the waters near Stockholm.
Russia on Sunday denied it has any vessel in Swedish waters. Moscow suggested the vessel may belong to the Netherlands and have been involved in naval exercises off Sweden, according to a report from Russia's Itar-TASS news agency.

The Dutch were quick to respond, saying a sub involved in the exercises was anchored in Tallinn harbor of NATO-ally Estonia for the weekend, according to a report from Agence France-Presse.

What I have found most instructive about this exercise is that it should remind all that ASW is a "come as you are" type of evolution. There is no training time out for you to get your act together; you had better have the training and equipment you need to find the sneaky little bastards when they show up in your back yard.

Of course, after the Cold War, the "Awfully Slow Warfare" was often left to wither and starve with many of the unsexy but important things. Looking at what the Swedish Navy has ASW wise, well, I'm glad I'm not trying to find that Russian with their toys. Letting ASW waste away that close to the bear? Not smart, and to paraphrase Comrade Trotsky,
You might not be interested in submarines, but submarines are interested in you.
Over at FP, Elias Groll has done a great job seeing the larger picture of how Sweden found herself playing blind man's bluff, and why.
On Sunday, Oct. 19, the Swedish authorities released a photograph showing what looks to be a periscope peeking above the surface.

The man who took that photo has since come forward and says he is certain that it shows a submarine. Moreover, the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported that Swedish authorities intercepted an encrypted distress signal from the area in which the submarine is believed to be located. That signal was reportedly bound for the Russian naval base in Kaliningrad.
One working theory is that the submarine has been damaged and is unable to navigate out of Swedish waters. The incident comes on the heels of the Northern Archer military exercise in the Baltic Sea, which involved Swedish and Dutch forces, and some analysts have speculated that the sub was in the area to observe the exercise and gather intelligence.
But in carrying out their search, the Swedish authorities are being severely hampered by their lack of sonar-equipped helicopters. Because the Stockholm archipelago is a dense island landscape, it has become something of a notorious playground for submarines, which have ample natural features behind which to hide and evade surface vessels. Unlike ships moving on the surface, helicopters have a distinct advantage in tracking down submarines, which have great difficulty monitoring aircraft while underwater. A helicopter can quickly cover large areas, surprising submarines by dropping sonar sensors. But Sweden's fleet of anti-submarine helicopters were phased out in 2008, and the replacement isn't expected until 2018.
The cuts were part of Sweden's broader reduction in defense spending in the aftermath of the Cold War.
You know my fetish for the story a nation's defense spending as a percentage of GDP tells, regardless of the size of its economy. Well ... here is your story;

The Swedes just voted in a gaggle of leftists, so we'll see what they do, I'm not optimistic in the medium or long term. Western leftists always fold in the face of power. 

Sweden's neighborhood has been getting more interesting for awhile.
This weekend's submarine incident is a sort of grim cherry on top. "What's been happening in the Baltic Sea, including airspace incursions, shows that we have a new, changed situation," Peter Hultqvist, the Swedish minister of defense, said to Svenska Dagbladet.

As a result, Sweden may very well be recalibrating its defense spending. "I would be extremely surprised if what has happened this summer and is possibly now happening in the Stockholm archipelago hasn't had an impact on all parties' budget priorities," Allan Widman, a defense spokesman for one center-right party, told Svenska Dagbladet.
Well Svendska, you're out of power now. We'll see what you do if or when you get back from the wilderness. Until then, perhaps the Swedish politicians should just shrug and say, "Sometimes you hunt Russians with the navy you have, not the navy you wish you had ... or even need."

Until then, and to my former students and colleagues I offer you this - "You can't buy training like this!"

And to our Russian shipmates, I hope you have managed to sneak home; otherwise you have drowned, or if the Swedes capture you - when you get back to Mother Russia, you're going to have a bad day.

On balance though, I'm with the Swedes. Go get 'em. Here's your Joint Action Area (JTAA).

UPDATE: Elias just made my day and makes my heart even warmer for my friends in the Swedish military;
The Swedish Navy continues to stalk the waters off the coast of its capital for a foreign -- all but certainly Russian -- submarine, and the country's military brass on Tuesday sounded an exasperated note to describe the unsuccessful hunt. "This is very serious," Sverker Göransson, the country's top military commander, told reporters. "I would even go so far as to say," he continued, "to say that it's fucked up."

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