The story of a Russian submarine discovered off the Swedish coastline is just the latest example of attempts by the media to portray Russia as an aggressive power flexing its military muscle in Europe.
Swedish Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad at a press conference about the search of the suspected foreign submarine off Stockholm coast, Oct. 21. Photo: TASS
In the second half of October, the Swedish Navy – including combat aircraft and coastal units – was put on military alert. The reason was the appearance of a mysterious (and, of course, it had to be Russian) submarine off the country’s coastline. Such an operational response should be welcomed, were it not for a naturally arising question: What exactly was the nature of this threat and was it contrived?
Russia’s Baltic Fleet does indeed possess two Project-877 Paltus-type diesel-electric submarines (which NATO refers to as the Kilo), built in 1983-1986 and known as the Vyborg and Dmitrov. They have a submerged displacement of 3,040 metric tons, a maximum speed submerged of 35 kmh, and a depth of up to 350 meters. The Paltus-type has an endurance of 45 days and is manned by a 57-strong crew. What’s more, it is armed with six 533-mm bow torpedo tubes (18 torpedoes and 24 sea mines) and a Biryuza missile system (which NATO refers to as the Club-S). The latter can launch subsonic cruise missiles with a penetrating high-explosive warhead weighing 400 kg.
It is obvious that such submarines could not inflict significant damage on Sweden, since their torpedoes, mines and cruise missiles do not carry a nuclear payload. Moreover, the mounted missile system is able to launch cruise missiles with a range of 300 km, which in the case of combat deployment, eliminates the need to enter the territorial waters of foreign countries. In addition, the Project-877 submarine achieved an optimal combination of low noise, surface and underwater target detection range, performance, and weapons capability. This made it one of the best in its class, including accident frequency.
Russia carries out Baltic Fleet exercises in the Kaliningrad region at least twice a year. So it was that on Sept. 25, a detachment of warships comprised of the corvette Soobrazitelny, the small missile ship Passat, and the small anti-submarine ship Aleksin, carried out artillery and missile electronic-launchfiring drills aimed at surface and air targets in the Baltic Fleet’s marine practice range in the Kaliningrad region. Anti-mine support was provided by the coastal minesweepers Alexei Sobolev and Sergei Kolbasiev, and air cover by Su-24 bombers from the naval air force of the Baltic Fleet. These exercises involved targets that simulated hostile combat ships and means of air attack. Drills involving the Baltic Fleet’s submarines are also conducted in the same area.
The Baltic Fleet’s warships are periodically engaged in operations in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. For instance, from Oct. 16 to Oct. 21, the modern frigate Yaroslav Mudriy was based at the Pakistani military naval port in Karachi, and took part in the joint Russian-Pakistani Arabian Monsoon 2014 exercise. This warship had previously been on an anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean. For that purpose, a marine corps was on board.
However, Russian surface ships and submarines do not conduct special operations near the national coasts of foreign countries – all the more so in the current context of the Ukrainian crisis, when the United States and partners are looking for any opportunity to accuse Russia of aggression. It tends to be forgotten that in Syria, for example, it was U.S. aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles that not only invaded the airspace of a foreign country, but also carried out strikes on its territory without proper authorization from either Damascus or the UN Security Council.
It is certainly possible that a Project-667BDRM Dolphin strategic submarine armed with R-29RMU2 Sineva (Liner) ballistic missiles did enter the Baltic Sea. Russia’s Northern Fleet possesses five combat-ready nuclear-powered submarines of this type with a displacement of 18,200 metric tons. Their appearance off the Swedish coast would indeed be cause for alarm. However, the combat patrol zones of the Project-667BDRM submarines are located in the northern seas, and their entry into the Baltic Sea would be picked up by NATO’s sonar detection installations on the seabed. Moreover, the Baltic Sea is too shallow for a Project-667BDRM submarine, and there is no rational objective for locating them there, especially given the Baltic Fleet’s limited capacity to defend them against a potential adversary.
It would be a fallacy to suppose that the Baltic Sea is home to only Russian submarines. The Royal Netherlands Navy, for instance, has four Walrus-class diesel-electric submarines with a displacement of 2,800 metric tons. And one of them just happened to be on an operational assignment in the vicinity of Stockholm at the time of the incident. One of the crew’s tasks was to perform emergency surfacing drills. The Swedish Navy command naturally denied the reports, but for some reason dispatched to its ports several warships that had previously been involved in a search operation for a foreign submarine in the country’s territorial waters. It is surprising to note that all the information received by the Swedish Navy about the alleged underwater activity of a foreign country came from individuals.
Thus, the latest scandal involving the Russian Navy’s supposed violation of the sovereign territory of a foreign country is looking increasingly like a tempest in a teapot. Most likely, there was no mysterious submarine off the Swedish coast. And instead of searching for mythical objects, Russia’s European partners would be advised to address real military threats, which – however much some in the West would like – are not emanating from Russia.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.