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.”
Maybe that salty language will be enough to catch the attention of Moscow, which continues to deny that it has anything to do with reports of a submarine mere miles from Stockholm. While Swedish military officials refuse to confirm that they are searching for a submarine or to whom the vessel belongs, the massive hunt is widely assumed to be focused on a Russian ship.
Late Tuesday, Swedish military officials reported that they received reports of two additional sightings of the vessel, but they appear to have made little substantive progress in tracking it down. The hunt for the sub continues in the Stockholm archipelago, with Swedish Navy ships scouring the dense island landscape for the vessel.
As I wrote on Monday, the Swedish Navy faces enormous obstacles in its hunt for the mystery submarine. Its anti-submarine helicopters were sold off in 2008, and the area around Stockholm is one of the world’s most difficult for carrying out a submarine hunt.
At a Tuesday press conference, the Swedish military released a new map documenting sightings of the vessel. The military has now documented five sightings of the vessel, most of which have come from private citizens in the archipelago. That includes the two sightings reported Tuesday.
But the map also highlights the difficulties facing the Swedes. The archipelago is a dense island grouping, with myriad places for a submarine to hide. Consider that the second-uppermost sighting on the map is in a channel that is at most 100 meters across. Open the map in full resolution, and the enormity of the task becomes apparent: inlets, bays, channels, and outcroppings make for a submariner’s paradise. It’s a treacherous place to navigate, of course, but the Russian submarine for now retains an advantage over its Swedish opponents.
Moreover, the Swedish military has been reliant on the public for these sightings. At a press conference Tuesday evening, Anders Grenstad, a spokesman for the Swedish military, told reporters that the military’s own observations had been “classed so low” that there was no need to go into their details.
With no real progress to report, the Swedish submarine hunt has entered something of a farcical stage. All of Sweden’s major media outlets have staffers reporting live from boats out in the Stockholm archipelago. But there of course isn’t much news to be gleaned from the mysterious movements of Swedish Navy vessels. Combat divers have been spotted going into the water, and there are unconfirmed reports that commandos are searching islands in the archipelago.
With very little to report about the submarine, the subplots are beginning to take center stage. On Sunday, the Swedish media wound itself into a tizzy over a photograph of a man dressed in black wading into the water somewhere in the archipelago. The security services were dispatched to find the man, who turned out to be a pensioner named Ove, out doing some fishing. “I’m no spy, I’m a pensioner,” he told Expressen. “You can tell that it’s me [in the photo] by my straight jeans, and I usually have a backpack on.”
In one of the more intriguing developments in the hunt, it was revealed late Monday that the Swedish military provided the media with an incorrect location of where one of the sightings had taken place, in an apparent effort to deceive their opponent. The Swedish military now deeply regrets that decision. “In retrospect, I should have been more clear at the press conference. What I showed on the map was an approximate position, as I did not want to reveal the exact location out of operational concerns,” Grenstad said in a statement posted online.
Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy’s inability to find a submarine is reigniting the political debate over Swedish defense spending. The lack of anti-submarine helicopters has become a central part of that debate, and it now turns out that some of the helicopters the navy needs can be found in a museum in the country’s south. According to a former submarine hunter who works at the museum, the choppers — known affectionately in Sweden as banana helicopters for their dual rotors — could be made serviceable again.
But that would require time and money, neither of which the Swedish military has in great supply at the moment.