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Battleships And Helicopters Join Hunt For Missing Submarine: Sweden Prepares To "Use Weapons To Surface Sub"

The hunt for missing October continues.

Recall that over the weekend, one of the less reported stories was that Sweden had deployed its various army, navy and air force units to hunt down what was reportedly a damaged Russian sub that had sunk in the Stockholm archipelago, something which Russia vehemently denied.

Since then, things have escalated and as both the FT and RIA reported, Swedish authorities declared a safety distance of 10,000 meters (5.4 nautical miles) from all military vessels taking part in the search for the alleged foreign sub. 

According to the Swedish Expressen newspaper, air traffic over the search area has been suspended. Such a large area of Swedish airspace has not been cordoned off since the '80s, the newspaper added. The fly ban will not affect passenger flights.

Swedish Navy vessels have reportedly sealed off a channel between Nynashamn and the island of Nattaro south of Stockholm. A large number of military vessels and helicopters are reported to be moving southward.

 

The Swedish Armed Forces first launched a major operation off the coast of Stockholm on Friday after receiving information, reportedly from a civilian, about the presence of an unknown underwater object in the region.

 

According to the Swedish Armed Forces, there have been three "very credible sightings" of an unknown object off the Swedish coast, suspected to be "foreign underwater activity." Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven stressed Monday that the ongoing operation is "not a submarine hunt," but an "underwater investigation."

But the key question remains, just whose sub is it that is missing? Earlier on Monday, a Russian Defense Ministry source told RIA Novosti that the unidentified object in Sweden could be a submarine belonging to the Dutch Navy. 

A spokesperson for the Royal Netherlands Navy told RIA Novosti that a Dutch submarine had recently visited Stockholm, but stated that it was no longer in Swedish waters when the "suspicious object" was first observed in the Stockholm archipelago.

Additionally, Bloomberg reported that a distress call caught in Swedish territorial waters on Oct. 17 has been incorrectly linked to presence of Dutch submarine, citing His Majesty’s Bruinvis, Karen Loos-Gelijns, spokeswoman for Defense Ministry says in e-mailed statement. She said the submarine went to Tallinn on Friday morning, stayed there over the weekend. She added that Dutch navy ships Tromp, Amsterdam, Evertsen, Zealand, submarine Bruinvis participated this month in international exercise Northern Archer in the Baltic Sea.

In other words, the Netherlands is refusing to take blame for the sub. As it Russia - recall that previously a spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry denied that the damaged sub belongs to Russia, stating that "there have been no extraordinary, let alone emergency situations involving Russian military vessels."

But while the originating nation of the offending sub, if there is indeed one, refuses to step up, Sweden is starting to lose patience. According to an update by TheLocal.se, battleships, minesweepers, helicopters and more than 200 troops continue to scour the area where they believe the sub is located.

Sweden's military has now been out on the hunt for five days, with the operation moving "across the archipelago" on Tuesday.

More:

Jesper Tengroth, press officer for the Swedish military, told The Local that the focus had switched from just the southern islands on Monday.

 

Swedish military vessels are now also patrolling open seas in the Danziger Gatt strait, news agency TT said.  But Tengroth would not give any further details about where Swedish ships and military units were stationed for "operational reasons".

 

After three civilian sightings of suspicious activity in the Stockholm archipelago, Sweden's Armed Forces have launched a full-scale investigation. 

In fact it has gotten to the point where Sweden may simply blow up the offending military equipment just to make the point that "The most important value of the operation - regardless of whether we find something -- is to send a very clear signal that Sweden and its armed forces are acting and are ready to act when we think this kind of activity is violating our borders," Supreme Commander General Sverker Göranson said.

As a result, Sweden's military has announced that if it finds a suspect foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago, it is prepared to force it to the surface "with weapons if necessary".

 "Our aim now is to force whatever it is up to the surface... with armed force, if necessary," he added.

He added that submarines are "extremely difficult" to find, and that Sweden has never succeeded in the past when it came to tracking them down.

"And no one else has either," he added.

If the sub is indeed Russian, it would be quite a hit for Sweden, which in more than a decade of hunting Russian U-boats in the 1980s and early nineties, never succeeded in capturing one, except in 1981 when the U137 ran aground several miles from one of Sweden's largest naval bases, triggering an embarrassing diplomatic stand-off for Russia.

Early Tuesday afternoon, at least five naval ships were stationed for more than two hours in an area east of Ingarö, the closest reported point to the Swedish mainland since the operation began. DN reported that one of the ships had "made contact" with something, but General Göranson denied the claim.

 

Göranson's comments to the Swedish media came after a nearly two-hour long meeting with Sweden's defence committee behind closed doors.

 

They also followed reports in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that there had been more than 100 reported sightings of a suspect vessel from members of the public in the past day  or so. "We're still getting more reports, and I want to underline the fact that we're happy about this," Göranson added. 

Here is a cross-section of what has been alleged to be a Russian X-Ray/AC-12 class submarine, the Losharik.

In any event with every passing day, the surfacing of the damaged sub gets closer, assuming of course one exists. And if, as the local Swedish media reports allege, the sub does belong to Russia and the result if a major political humiliation for the Kremlin, will Putin just sit idly by, especially since what is going on close to Stockholm has become a regional spectacle. As the FT reported, "the Swedish military operation is being followed around the region. Edgars Rinkevics, Latvia’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter at the weekend: “Closely following events in the Swedish territorial waters, may become a game changer of the security in the whole Baltic sea region."

It may indeed, and the answer will be forthcoming. After all there is only so much air a sub can store.