Red October (Красный Oктябрь, "Krasniy Oktyabr") is a fictitious modified Typhoon class submarine in the Tom Clancy novel The Hunt for Red October and the film that followed. She was built with a revolutionary stealth propulsion system called a "caterpillar drive", which is described as a pump-jet system in the book. In the film however, it is shown as being a magnetohydrodynamic drive.
The drama of the story partially centers around the dual capabilities of this submarine. As a submarine of the Typhoon class, it carries many ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. With a stealthy propulsion unit, it can no longer be detected by NATO naval vessels. As described in both the book and the film, these capabilities combine to create a horrific weapon, whereby the submarine could easily reach the coastal waters of a city, like Washington DC, fire its missiles, and destroy key targets before any government or military leaders could order a counterattack.
One interpretation, as offered in the film and book, is that this submarine's existence is for one purpose: not as a deterrent to an American attack on the Soviet Union, but solely as a weapon of first strike. It thus becomes critical for the U.S. government to see this submarine either destroyed or captured.
Captain First Rank Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius was the first and last commanding officer of Red October. According to the story The Hunt for Red October, in late 1984 (according to the dates mentioned in the book, the year could not have been 1984, but is consistent with the year 1982) Ramius and his command crew took the Red October out on exercises. Once at sea Ramius murdered the political officer and then turned the boat towards the United States. Despite efforts by the Soviet Navy, Red October was able to reach USS Dallas and the United States was able to engage in a complicated rescue plan.
Along for the ride on the Dallas, and later on the Red October, is a part-time CIA analyst named Jack Ryan, who read Ramius' intent and suggested setting up the rendezvous. The rescue plan resulted in the Russian Navy believing the boat had been destroyed. The Soviet Alfa-class attack submarine Konovalov discovered Red October's survival, but was destroyed before it could report back that Red October's sinking had been staged.
Most of the officers defected with Ramius but the commander of the Dallas concealed the defection from the rest of the crew, who were repatriated in due course. The submarine was reverse engineered by the U.S. Navy to discern its secrets. Sometime between a year and eighteen months later the hull of the sub was sunk in a deep ocean trench, although previously the submarine USS Ethan Allen had been scuttled in order to deceive Soviet officials that Red October had been sunk. The technology then seems to disappear, although there are later references in some other books, including The Sum of All Fears. In The Cardinal of the Kremlin Ramius says the U.S. Navy is building an advanced version of the pump-jet system for American submarines.
In reality, a variant of the magnetohydrodynamic drive stated in the film has been tested, but proved too inefficient and cumbersome to be used as an effective means of a propulsion system on a submarine. This type of propulsion system also would not be enclosed in a duct/pipe (as depicted in the film). A pump jet would be more efficient, but not enough for a submarine of that size.
In the series of books to come by Tom Clancy, the Red October adventure proved useful to Ryan's career. In later books, Ryan is able to use his heroism in obtaining the submarine as a lever with which to force a threatening KGB Secretary to defect to the US against his will (in the novel The Cardinal of the Kremlin), ending the possibility of a Kremlin coup against a politically centrist Soviet government.
Years later the truth of these events came to light when political opponents of then President Jack Ryan revealed his part in the affair. By this time the Soviet Union had collapsed and the prevailing opinion in Moscow seems to have been "Well Done", though they put the Russian hierarchy in a political bind vis-a-vis cooperation with the United States at a critical point.
In the story, Red October is the seventh Typhoon class hull built for the Soviet Navy; the real seventh boat, hull number Soviet submarine TK-210, was laid down in the late 1980s, canceled before it could have been commissioned and scrapped in 1990. None of the real Typhoon class submarines had 26 missile tubes or were considerably larger than the other Typhoon class SSBNs in the Russian Navy. Most Typhoon class subs were only about 175 meters long with about a 23 meter beam. The Red October would also have been about 5,000 tons heavier than the normal Typhoon class sub. No Soviet submarines were officially named Red October. Only the Japanese experimental civilian boat Yamato 1 has managed to use this type of advanced propulsion system.
In the film, the Red October appears much like a standard Typhoon-class submarine though it has a number of significant differences. The aft section of the submarine contains two ducts for the caterpillar drive. The upper rudder carries a towed sonar array which typical Typhoon-class submarines do not feature. Also the bridge tower of the submarine is taller and more simplified, with no large bulging lower section of a standard Typhoon bridge tower, but instead a much smaller bulge. The difference in appearance of the bridge tower may have been an error in the design of the model of the Red October as earlier on in the film, schematics of a Typhoon-class submarine are shown which display a standard Typhoon bridge tower but also carry the sonar array attached to the rudder as on Red October. Red October is also longer due to additional ballistic missile launch tubes.