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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Navy drama: Crimson Tide

Crimson Tide is a gripping tale of conflict between the commander and executive officer on board an Ohio-class missile submarine of the US Navy, USS Alabama. Acting by Gene Hackman as the captain and by Denzel Washington as the executive officer was intense, and I do like this movie tremendously. The movie was released in 1995, and because the subject of the movie was controversial (a mutiny on board a submarine), the US navy refused to cooperate; and all filming had to be done in special sets.
So what is an Ohio class missile boat (submarine) ? It is the quietest boat that the US navy has, very very difficult to detect once it is in the water. It runs on energy from a nuclear reaction and hence does not have the problem of diesel boats that it has to come up for air. It is also a critical part of the US plan for retaliation (second-strike) in a nuclear scenario. A Ohio class submarine has 24 ballistic submarines, each with 8 warheads. The firepower that can be thrown up by an Ohio class submarine can decimate an entire nation.
There are many technical issues in the movie, most of them listed here. The chief one being whether the captain of a nuclear submarine has the ability to fire the missiles without receiving a direct approval from the commander-in-chief (the President). Having said that, it is a very entertaining movie.
The movie deals at a time of tension with Russia. A Russian renegade has taken control of a Russian missile base and has threatened both Russia and the US from taking any action. The USS Alabama is ordered to be on patrol, with the aim of being able to fire on the Russian base if there are any hostile actions taken by the Russian. Gene Hackman is the captain (Captain Frank Ramsey) and his executive officer is Denzel Washington (Lt Commander Ron Hunter). The boat does receive an order to fire on the Russian base, but then a second order starts to come through, is aborted however when the Alabama is attacked by a Russian Akula hunter submarine. The captain believes that he has a valid order, but Washington refuses to concur, wanting to review the second aborted order.
This sets off a confrontation. The XO (executive officer) orders the arrest of the captain (who is normally god of the submarine) for over-reaching his authority, and in a sudden fight with the Akula, suffers further damage while destroying the Russian sub. The damage is severe, with communications knocked out, people having dies, and water having flooded part of the sub. The captain's loyal officers get him releases, and he then orders the arrest of the XO and his loyal officers.
Ramsey is determined to launch the missiles, and is only prevented by the weapons officer who has been convinced by the XO to delay this operation. In this stand-off, they determine to wait for the second communication, and communications finally get restored. The second order was a reversal of the first order, ordering a cease and desist. The US navy came this close to launching nuclear missiles on a nuclear-capable nation.
In the post battle review, the admirals are astonished at the level of conflict on board the sub, and the net result is that the captain resigns and the XO takes over. Realistic, maybe not; gripping, sure; and very very interesting. Almost the entire action takes place inside a submarine.

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