Did The Hunt For Red October Accidentally Reveal Secret United States Submarine Technology?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The Hunt for Red October accidentally revealed secret United States submarine technology.

The Hunt for Red October was a 1990 hit film about a Russian submarine commander (Sean Connery) who tries to defect to the United States, using the highly advanced nuclear submarine under his command as essentially an offering to the U.S. to allow him to defect.

Alec Baldwin plays the CIA analyst who figures out Connery’s character’s plan to defect. The rest of the film involves the Russians trying to destroy him before he can defect while the Americans try to find the ship and carry out the defection.

In any event, at one point in the film, the crew of the USS Dallas (the U.S. submarine trying to chase down the Red October to make contact and determine if the captain of the Russian sub actually IS trying to defect and if so, to help him in his attempt) note that they have “milligal anomalies”.

What does that mean?

A milligal is a unit of acceleration used in the science of gravimetry.

Gravimetry has to do with the study of gravitational fields. You see, in the past, the only way that submarines could navigate in the deep (dark) blue sea was to use sonar. That was all well and good, but using sonar involved sending off sonic “pings” that would reveal your location to any submarine in the near area. So a submarine that could navigate using a gravimeter (to sense one’s position using gravitational fields) would be able to, in effect, “run silent.”

At the time, the use of gravimeters on U.S. submarines (which began in the early 1970s) was still top secret and the technology behind it was quite classified. So mentioning it in the film effectively gave away that it not only existed, but that the U.S. was using it on their submarines.

Soon after the film’s release, Bell Aerospace de-classified a great deal of the information (as it was now out there, anyways) and eventually sold the technology to Bell Geospace, who still uses the technology to this day (on various oil exploration vehicles).

The legend is…

STATUS: Basically True (it just might not have been all that important of a secret)

Thanks to the Central Intelligence Agency for the information about the reaction to the reveal at the time (it was written about in a CIA document back in 2009).

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is [email protected]


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