Wednesday, December 6, 2023

DARPA is developing a silent propulsion for submarines similar to that of the Red October

DARPA, the Pentagon's innovation agency, is developing a silent magnetohydrodynamic propulsion for submarines comparable to that at the heart of the plot of the novel "In Pursuit of Red October" by Tom Clancy.

At the end of 1984, a short story published by the Naval Institutes Press by a then little-known American author began to enjoy great success not only with traditional readers of military short stories, but with the general public.

5 million copies later, “The Hunt for Red October” had become a worldwide success, propelling Tom Clancy to the forefront and even creating a new literary style, the techno-thriller. This success was largely based on the precision of the book, and in particular on its descriptions of the world of modern submarine warfare, until then relatively obscure to the general public.

The novel describes the escape of a Soviet submarine captain and part of his crew to the United States, taking with him the latest nuclear ballistic missile submarine of the Soviet fleet, The Red October, a ship derived from the Typhoon class. Above all, the ship carries a new magnetohydrodynamic propulsion system called the caterpillar, making it virtually undetectable by American sonars from the SOSUS line but also from those of US Navy submarines and frigates.

If the Red October never existed, this technology, which goes by the acronym MHD, was the subject of significant research starting in the 1960s, in the United States and in the Soviet Union, precisely with the aim of to provide ships and submarines with propulsion without moving parts, and therefore much more discreet.

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The vibrations and cavitations of the propulsion propellers constitute one of the most important sources of sound emitted by a submarine. The faster the submarine goes and moves at a shallower depth, the louder these sounds are and allows the vessel to be located.

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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