STAR-BULLETIN / 2006
The sea-based X-band radar, shown above, has returned to Hawaii several times but is now on its way to its final destination of Adak, Alaska, its home port.
Floating radar leaves Honolulu
KODIAK, Alaska » The sea-based radar considered a key to the nation's missile defense shield has left Hawaii for its home port of Adak, Alaska, at the end of the Aleutian Chain.
The sea-based X-band radar, or SBX, is part of the Missile Defense Agency's $43 billion program and is used to track missile launches. It looks like a giant golf ball sitting atop a 27-story, partially submersible oil rig.
The radar has been in Hawaii for repairs. It has never been to its home port.
The radar was on course to Adak more than 10 months ago but turned back to Hawaii after experiencing ballast problems.
It is intended to detect the launch of missiles from hostile nations, such as North Korea, and to guide U.S. missiles to intercept them.
The system can pinpoint a pingpong ball 3,000 miles away with its powerful, high-frequency radar, making detailed, long-range imagery possible at the North American Aerospace Defense Command on Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency in Washington, D.C., confirmed that the radar left Honolulu last Saturday.
The floating radar travels at about 6-7 mph 24 hours a day.
Lehner said the radar might not arrive in Adak for weeks, and mooring work must first be finished on the island before the radar can dock.
Before reaching Adak, it is scheduled to be used in at least three test missile launches. The first, in March, will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
"The SBX will be out in the Pacific somewhere to track that launch," Lehner said. "That test will not be part of the Kodiak system."
In April or May an intercept test from the launch complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska, will take place, he said. "The SBX will track those missiles."
Lehner said the Kodiak test will be the first time the SBX will be "integrated in the fire control or shadow mode," meaning the missile system still relies on radar in California.
Another test planned for the fall will use the radar as the primary source radar, moving closer to complete reliance on it in the entire missile defense system.
The last missile test occurred in September. An interceptor fired from Vandenberg knocked out a target missile fired from the Kodiak Launch Complex that traveled 1,800 miles south and some 200 miles high before the hit.
The test was the first use of an early-warning radar at Beale Air Force Base, about 40 miles north of Sacramento, Calif.
The California interceptor missiles are controlled remotely from the Joint National Integration Center in Colorado Springs and travel at 18,000 mph.
The primary objective of the next Kodiak launch will also be to knock out the target missile.
The September intercept was the sixth hit for the overall program out of 11 attempts.
"The SBX is being developed in stages, one step at a time. It is a slow process," Lehner said.