THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
By Tom Clancy, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, October 1984 394pp illus.
The novel, The Hunt for Red October is must reading for submariners. The Naval Institute has never published a novel before. They didn’t choose this book by chance. It’s a “ringer”. A new specially modified Soviet ballistic missile submarine of the Typhoon class is loose on the high seas. Its Captain — a man named Ramius is the prima donna skipper of Soviet nuclear submarines. He decides to defect to the Americans and leaves a message to his Admiral brazenly stating his intent. So the Russians know; the Americans do not. The Soviet high command redeploys its fleet in an optimum way to intercept and destroy, but the RED OCTOBER escapes the Russian blockade in the Barents, and steams carefully but confidently out into the Atlantic. The Soviets send their SSNs ahead toward the American ports to intercept, some at speeds over forty knots.Deployed Soviet ballistic missile subs are recalled an indication to the Americans of the non-hostile intent of the exercise.
The Soviets deploy their surface fleet, so do the Americans and the British. The American intelligence community comes up with an accurate analysis of what is happening and confirms this with the American “mole” in the Soviet Union. Now both the Americans and the Soviets know. Disinformation is used by the Americans; perhaps the RED OCTOBER has not really defected, but has been ordered into “left field” by a clever third country who has gained access to the Soviet system. Now the Americans know, the Soviets aren’t sure. Back and forth it goes, all the way to the top in both countries.
The highest drama is played on the ships at sea. The RED OCTOBER is unusually quieted by a two-tunnel, secondary propulsion system dubbed the “caterpillar.” The tunnels extend the length of the ship and house impellers. The Soviet submariners may have been foiled, but not the ten feet tall American submariners. She is heard, with difficulty, but heard by the DALLAS, a U.S.688 Eventually the DALLAS gets into trail position.DALLAS is commanded by the finest of skippers. The story rings true; for example the “Crazy Ivan” maneuvers of the Russians to foil a sub in trail; the mad dash through the peaks of the Reykjanes Ridge; and the typical submariner dialogue between officers and crew. There is a special rapport between the DALLAS captain and his particularly talented but eccentric sonarman.
DALLAS reports her contact to COMSUBLANT and receives permission to stay in trail. The episode is far from over; how do the Americans keep the Russians from destroying their quarry and how do the Americans take custody of a foreign submarine safely? Should they do it?
The surface forces mix it up too, as do Navy and Air Force aircraft. The Russian task force which includes the carrier KIEV is being shadowed by an American E-3A Sentry AWACS. A YAK-36 Forger goes off to buzz the AWACS just to show that in a real war the AWACS would be shot down. The YAK comes in very low to avoid radar. To his dismay he’s caught by a pair of F-15 Eagles. He’s out of radar range of his Russian ship, yet not within his missile range of the Americans. What’s more, the Americans taunt him in flawless Russian. Next, 14 B52s surprise the Russian ships by coming in from all directions simultaneously. Eventually a completely frustrated YAK-36 pilot fires missiles at a Navy F-14. The cool-headed Americans don’t fire back and the F-14 limps home. As with the submarines, the American surface and air arms invariably work better than their Russian counterparts. The Yanks are more imaginative — simply better all around. As a final stroke, four DC-9s flown by the Maryland Air National Guard take the KIROV by surprise and lay a “box” of flares around the Russian carrier. Finally the Soviet surface forces realize they are compromising all their electronics and tactics and not helping in the search for the RED OCTOBER so they assume a very non-belligerent pose.
Beneath the sea and at command posts ashore the game grows more tense as the run-away Russian ballistic missile submarine approaches. As usual the Americans have a plan and carry it out with flair. By story’s end three submarines are lost, reactors have loss of coolant accidents as well as cold water accidents, torpedoes are fired, decoys are used, many lives are lost, and everyone ends up relatively happy and most everyone slightly deceived thanks to the sleight of hand of the intelligence communities.
From beginning to end the story seems plausible, as tension rises to a climax. The reason is the basic accuracy in treatment of the submarines, ships, aircraft and their functions. their weapons and their people right down to their dialogue. It is rather difficult to believe that the writer Tom Clancy had never set foot on a submarine until after the book was written. He never even served in the armed forces, as claimed in The Washington Post Book World of June 24. The book does occasionally stray from reality. On the American side, the CIA and Naval Intelligence are far more than analysts and advisors; they make most of the key operational decisions as well. Indeed the author seems hard put to find convincing things for the JCS to do. There is a James Bond like character with two years experience in the CIA who manages to be almost everywhere : in American planes, on British ships, and eventually operating the depth planes and rudder on the RED OCTOBER itself. He is also involved in an automatic pistol shootout in a Russian “Sherwood Forest”. Now and then he briefs the President of the United States. Obviously this doesn’t add to the book’s credibility. And then near the book’s end it is a CIA man not the State Department who offers American sanctuary to defecting Russians.
As a former skipper of a nuclear submarine, I found the book’s description of nuclear reactor operations erroneous and disconcerting. Contaminations by radioactive material was termed a “radiation leak”. Indeed, radioactive dosage, clothing contamination, and radiation fields are all discussed in RADs. The author said that after a loss of coolant accident that there would be enough residual heat in the core to melt everything in the submarine compartment. That’s an awful lot of decay heat for a water-cooled reactor.
By far the most impressive aspect of this book is the way a large volume of material, normally too classified to discuss, is bandied about. Frequently the detailed nomenclature is quite unnecessary for the story itself. For example, nearly every item in the submarine R&D budget of ten years ago is somewhere described in the book is in service use and working well. MOSS the Mobile Submarine Simulator, the wide aperture array, SSIXs, Mk 48 torpedo improvement program, and towed sonar arrays are all there. The book points out that the Mk 48 torpedo was modified with a shaped charge because Soviet double-hulled submarines were tough targets to sink. The nickel-cadmium batteries of the Soviet Typhoon class of submarine are outside the pressure hull, partly for added buffering. The author, Clancy, underscores this point by exploding the Soviet version of the MK48 torpedo against the RED OCTOBER. (The Soviet version has less sophisticated guidance.) The RED OCTOBER does not sink. (If the MK48 is in trouble because of explosive power, most of U.S. surface and air ASW ordinance is also in trouble.)
Clancy gives the top speeds of modern Soviet Subs. He discusses the use of the two doors on the Typhoon stern. He gives a reason for the device between the two doors. He identifies the sonar on ALPHA submarines as essentially a French DUUV-23. The ALPHA submarine’s reactor is not sodium cooled as the Americans think, he says, but water cooled with very high temperatures and pressure. Clancy describes a dual pendulum navigating device which measures the earth’s gravitational fiela . Laser technology allows measurement accuracy of the space between the pendulum to within a fraction of an angstrom. The Soviets have surveyed and charted key areas, such as the Reykjanes Ridge, by gravitational field and hence are able to manuever in these areas close to the bottom and to pinnacles at high speeds.
Other American equipment thoroughly discussed are FLIR, SOSUS, LANTRN, and the A-10 Avenger’s rotary cannon loaded with spent uranium slugs.
Clancy makes interesting observations about the “political officer’s” position on Soviet ships. He is there, close to the right shoulder of the CO to ensure the ideological “purity” of the skipper’s actions and to prevent his deviating from the best interests of “the Communist Party”. When there is a particular “orders opening” on the RED OCTOBER, the political officer already knows what the orders say. The ship’s captain does not. The political officer also has one of the keys necessary to fire a missile. It is clear that the Soviet highest authority trust their political officers more than they trust their coiiiD8nding officers. Perhaps because of this, much very routine verbiage in the Soviet Navy is couched in political tertns or at least garnished with some key political words. This book says that the main reason the Typhoon patrols are so short is that the Soviets don’t trust their commanding officers to be far at sea too long with all his ballistic missiles, even though there is a political oficer to watch him. We should therefore not expect the Soviet command and control network to look like ours. They conceive the problem differently. This difference in concept rests on the vast differences in the political structure of the two nations.
One could go on. But its best to read the book and see for yourself. It is a very good book to stimulate discussion of tactics for submarines and other fighting units. If Tom Clancy is really an insurance agent with no military experience as is claimed by the Publishers, he must be quite precocious.
G. E. Synhorst
SUBMARINE DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT
Norman Friedman: Annapolis, 1984; Naval Institute Press, 192 pp illus.
The concept of a book on submarine developments for the layman is exciting and timely. It is exciting because there is a need to inform an interested public on the important issues regarding submarine developments by the superpowers. The esoteric nature of submarine warfare has made it dificult to gain support for systems. While there is a general awareness of the importance of submarines, those outside a limited circle are neither strongly motivat ed nor sufficiently informed to make judgements with regard to the support of new submarine design initiatives. This informative text is timely in that a new U.S. attack submarine design is cnrrently under consideration with the goal of t he first unit being authorized in FY 1989.
The topic is right and the timing is right. Submarine Design and Development is loaded with useful dat a that may not be available elsewhere. The photographs, many of which have been previously published in the Warship series and other text, are clear and in themselves present a review of past developments. The history is interesting and well sketched, but except for the mention of new Soviet and British classes, there is little that addresses developments over the last ten years.
There are some factual errors and there are over a dozen myths that are presented as truths by the author — without reservations. For the most part, these myths are rooted in the past and should be reexamined in light of today’s technology. The author evidently has not done that, perhaps inhibited by the difficulty in accessing much of today’ s submarine technology. Thus, the reader who is inexperienced in submarine matters is likely to accept unquestioningly these myths as facts. The discussion of design tradeoff& is limited and not easy to follow. And the editing of this book is spotty, indicating the great difficulty in finding reviewers who are sufficiently versed in submarine matters that they can totally cover the very broad spectrum of submarine technologies.
There are two general areas of the book through which the reader should proceed with caution. In the area of submarine systems, the author stumbles over the functioning of basic systems such as those involved with surfacing and submerging. His comprehension of the functional aspects of basic submarine systems is suspect. He has obviously conducted research, since he uses the right words, but often in the wrong context. It is apparent that he does not have any practical submarine experience. However, he does charge ahead in a fashion misleading to the layman and aggravating to the “qualified’* in this area. His errors appear in both text and caption of photographs. For example, the caption of a submerging submarine reads, ” . . . . blows out her ballast while diving”–and this is not a one-time error. Other areas where the author didn’t fully comprehend the working of systems described to him include watertight integrity and depth, the battery/generator/motor arrangement on the U.S. fleet-type submarine, and the advantages of external and internal hull framing.
In the area of submarine weapons, the author has similarly failed to properly interpret the material he has gathered. The submerged launched SS-N-7 cruise missile is improperly described as a standoff torpedo in one section and correctly as a submerged launched cruise missile in another section. Yet the more recent SS-N-19 is later described as the first Soviet submerged launched cruise missile. There is no explanation as to why the SS-N-7 is excluded from that category. The text gives the impression that torpedo accuracy is a function of torpedo tube length and that the CHARLIE Class (SSGN) rather than the VICTOR Class (SSN) is the successor to the NOVEMBER Class (SSN). It is also stated that early Soviet submarine launched ballistic missiles could be fired only to a fixed range. Thus the launch platform had to position itself relative to the target before launch. Since the Soviet missiles were liquid fueled, they were adjustable in range by simply varying the burn time — an option not available to solid fuel systems.
Specific areas also to be regarded with caution are the author’s descriptions of nonacoustic signatures, flow around a submarine hull, Soviet design goals, and the interrelationships among the various submarine design parameters. As to the myths that the author seems to accept in good faith, if perpetuated they only serve to mislead decision makers as well as interested observers.
One of the myths is that the Soviet Union has been building large attack submarines, and it is their great size that allows them to achieve the combination of depth, speed, signature reduction, and weapons. The “quiet” Soviet VICTOR-III, however, has a submerged displacement of about 1000 tons less than the U.S. 688 Class. Moreover, the submerged displacements of Soviet submarines include over 35 percent* reserve buoyancy for the VICTOR, while for the 688 it is only about one-third as much buoyancy. People who understand submarines will recognize that much more of the submerged volume of Soviet submarines is allocated to seawater-filled ballast tanks rather than internal pressure hulls. Thus. a more realistic measure of the volume and weight allocated to achieving depth, speed, and signature reduction should be a submarine’s surface displacement. The surface displacement for the VICTOR-Ill and u.s. 688 are about 4500 tons and 6000 tons, respectively. The VICTOR-I is less than 4000 tons and the ALFA is less than 2700 tons. The ability of the Soviets to produce a highly capable submarine in a small package continues in that the surface displacement of the new SIERRA Class (the purported follow-on to the VICTOR series) is still less than that of the 688. Only the new Soviet MIKE SSN appears to have a surface displacement larger than the 688.
Perpetuation of the “large Soviet submarine” myth misleads people into the belief that excess volume alone accounts for Soviet superiority in such characteristics as weapons load, number of torpedo tubes, depth capability, redundancy, compartmentation, and speed. When it is realized that these advantages have been achieved with significantly lesser internal volume, then the need to examine the differences between the Soviet and U.S. technology bases becomes more apparent. Furthermore, the extraordinary size of the OSCAR and TYPHOON are more likely to be overlooked if it is believed that all Soviet submarines are large. Since the Soviet Union can pack so much into small.
It is certainly a myth that “inertia” in the Soviet industry results in submarines being denied the necessary navigational equipment. Another myth is that production of one type of pressure hull section has dictated the configuration of three generations of Soviet ballistic missile submarines. In regard to navigational equipment, Soviet submarines are not tasked to perform identically to U.S. submarines. Therefore, Soviet navigational requirements also vary. The myth that external intelligence places a burden on navigation adds to the confusion. Soviet remote targeting, such as aircraft relayed video over a data link (VOL), presents the subbmarine with a relative targeting picture. That is, both the submarine and its target are shown in the video presentation. The need for precise navigation is thus reduced rather than compounded. The fact that Soviet missile submarines are not equipped with u.s. type navigational equipment basically reflects a difference in targeting philosophy rather than a limitation of industrial capacity.
That the TYPHOON is a simple evolution of the YANKEE and DELTA Classes is another misleading myth that should be replaced with a more credible, factual concept, as occurred with the “27-knot ALFA” when it was observed making more than 40 knots. The TYPHOON (great wind) represents a revolution in undersea warfare. A check of the measurements published in Soviet Military Power, 1984 indicates that its submerged displacement is closer to 45,000 tons than 25,000 tons. There is no magic in that calculation. Submerged dispacement is not the displacement of the pressure hull alone; it is the displacement of the entire double-hulled vehicle including its flooded tankage, unless there are open channels through the TYPHOON. To gain only four missiles over a 13 ,000-ton DELTA, which uses a Missile of almost the same size, doesn’t make too much sense, unless the TYPHOON has reloads a different power plant and power thrustor, or is built to be unsinkable.
There is much more to the TYPHOON than a simple evolution from the DELTA-type SSBN. Such apparent characteristics as the size, shape, and location of the sail, the size and location of the thrusters, the stern configuration, and the over 300 square-meter elliptical cross section attest to its being unique. If those important differences are not recognized but simply dismissed as an evolutionary development, we can be assured of catastrophic surprises in the future. The power plant, the propulsor, the survivability, and the very function of the TYPHOON are yet to be understood in the West. Because of these unknowns, it is imprudent to project that te TYPHOON will be constrained to operate within a local sanctuary.
Other myths presented in the book include: that high speed submarines, particularly nuclear submarines, can never be silent; the Soviets need to “hand make” quiet machinery and submarine electronics; the Soviet Union uses double-hull construction because they lack confidence in their power plants and are afraid of ice rupturing the pressure hull; that SOSUS should be a viable wartime asset against Soviet submarines; that surface ships are the only rational choices for exercising ” presence.”
The author does bring out the little appreciated fact that the massive launch of ballistic missiles should reveal the submarine’s location — and it does very precisely in a matter of seconds. However, the author thus concludses that the SSBN’s existence is no longer relevant after all missiles are launched. But this is a perpetuation of what the reviewer believes is one of the major myths today – that all strategic weapons will be dumped in an all-out strategic strike against an enemy’s homeland. Far more likely is a discreet use of SLBMs — if they are ever used. The launch of less than a full salvo increases in likelihood when the number of missiles on each boat is increased and the force levels are decreased . The launch then of nuclear ballistic missiles will most assuredly bring counterfire, against which means to survive become important to SSBNs. The strategy of counter fire against submarine launched missiles is an important measure addressed in the literature by high level Soviet planners. The Soviet penchant for very high speed, even in their SSBNs, is consistent with this perception, since “post-launch maneuver” as well as great resistance to nuclear blasts becomes a key to survival.
A most disappointing aspect of Submarine Design and Development was the omission of new technologies. Except for the names of new submarine classes, the technology cut-off seemed to be over a decade ago. Little was said about new power generation concepts, drag reduction, or more efficient propulsors. We are in the midst of a set of extraordinary developments in submarine technology, yet the author’s addressal of “future possibilities” is limited to the relocation of forward planes, the change of length-to-beam ratios, and the potential of using HY-130 steel. In a period when technological change is so r811lpant, it is unfortunate that the author apparently was unaware of the unclassified literature available regarding these new technologies and had to give the impression submare regarding these new technologies and had to give the impression submarine technology has been nearly stagnant for the past 20 years. If the public and key decision makers believe this to be true, then the U.S. Submarine Force will have a great deal of difficulty in acquiring the systems and technology necessary to combat Soviet submarines with their many new technologies.
This review may sound less than enthusiastic because of the nit-picks cited. Yet it is apparent that the subject of submarine design and development is so complex that a single individual’s attempt to cover all areas coaprehensively is bound to be flawed in some spots. The remarkable aspect of this book is that Nonaan Friedman has been able to include so much historical material.