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The new Russian sub in The Hunt for Red October had a new 'caterpillar' drive which meant it was undetecable to sonars. However, it was spotted on it's maiden voyage and Jones immediately worked out a way to detect it with the sonar.

Hence it was detectable with a slight modification which could be performed by a sonar operator on the fly and the relevant informtion could then be broadcast to the rest of the American submarines and they could detect it too.

If the only feature of the Red October was that it could not be detected then it did not work. Why was such an effort made to capture it?

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I thought that the Dallas was tracking it and then lost it when the drive was engaged (apart from the singing) and later Jones kept investigating and eventually played the sound at 10x speed? – Stefan Mar 31 '14 at 8:39

There are a few issues at work here.

Firstly, there was confusion as to the mission of the Red October. From the Wiki:

Officials in the briefing, learning that the bulk of the Soviet Navy has been deployed to sink Red October, fear Ramius may plan an unauthorized strike against the United States. Ryan, however, hypothesizes that Ramius instead plans to defect, and leaves for the North Atlantic to prove his theory before the U.S. Navy is ordered to sink Red October.

So to start with, Ryan was tracking and trying to capture the submarine (as opposed to destroying it) as he didn't believe it posed a genuine threat.

Secondly, it has to be remembered that even though the 'caterpillar' drive malfunctioned, it was still a piece of technology that the US didn't have and could learn from. It still could do things that no US submarine could do.

If the US could figure out how it worked and operated, they could attempt to better it and make it more reliable, thus adding to the strength of their naval fleet.


Some demonstration from the movie of Jones' prowess:

Have I got this straight, Jonesy? A $million computer tells you you're chasing an earthquake, but you don't believe it, and you come up with this on your own?
Yes, sir.
Including all the navigation math?
Sir, I've got all the...
Relax, Jonesy. You sold me.

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But it didn't work? They could detect it, even a sonar operator on the fly could make the relevant adjustments. Would it really be worth all of that trouble? – Stefan Mar 31 '14 at 8:41
@Stefan: My response to that was always that the sonar operator could detect the submarine, but only after its drive malfunctioned and it knew roughly where it was. It would be a totally different ballgame if you had the whole ocean to work with and had no idea where it was, if it was even there at all. – Andrew Martin Mar 31 '14 at 8:43
@Stefan: If you ever read the original Tom Clancy novel, it goes into a little more detail. The US know it has this technology and they spot it setting out to sea. They only lose it when it switches its drive on and knowing roughly where it is work on all manner of ways to detect it again, eventually succeeding. I always got the impression that if the submarine had always had the drive on, they would have really struggled to know where it was. it was only because they had a much smaller area to deal with they could detect it. – Andrew Martin Mar 31 '14 at 8:55
@Stefan ... You also need to realize that Jonesy is supposed to be a better than average sonar operator, in fact is supposed to be a very sharp one. He applies instinct, knowledge, and talent together to come up with a hypothesis, then proves his hypothesis. Clancy would have you believe that not every sonar operator could do this. Right person, right place, right time. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Mar 31 '14 at 10:57
@Stefan: I've added an extra snippet to the bottom of my answer. That's the most I can find from the movie suggesting his superiors trusted him and his judgement. – Andrew Martin Apr 1 '14 at 9:25

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