GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The sea-based X-band radar system returned last week to Pearl Harbor, where it will remain for the next four months for a $5.4 million maintenance job and further testing. CLICK FOR LARGE
Pearl Harbor fixing giant radar facility
The 27-story vessel is a key component in the U.S. missile defense system
The 27-story sea-based X-band radar, part of the $3.4 billion Missile Defense Agency system, is back at Pearl Harbor for four months of maintenance and testing.
The floating radar system, which resembles a giant golf ball on a floating platform, docked at Pearl Harbor on Tuesday. It spans 240 feet in width and 390 feet in length and displaces nearly 50,000 tons.
Pam Rogers, spokeswoman for the Missile Defense Agency, said the "scheduled maintenance" and planned upgrades will be done by BAE Shipyards, which is under contract to Boeing Missile Systems.
She described the work that will be done on the converted floating oil platform to be "the normal sort of thing needed for a vessel that has spent six months at sea: scraping, painting and general maintenance."
Victor Rhoades, BAE director of operations, said all of the maintenance work will be done in the interiors of the platform in two different segments over the next four months. He said this portion of the maintenance contract is valued at $5.4 million.
Rhoades said the work won't be "as challenging" as the last time BAE workers had to work on the platform. That occurred during last year's heavy rains and all the work was on the exterior of the platform.
"We had to hang scaffoldings on the exterior of the vessel," he added.
That job took 90 days and cost $6.5 million.
The SBX was at sea for 174 days before returning to Pearl Harbor, and traveled more than 6,000 nautical miles, Rogers said.
Described as the world's largest phased array X-band radar, the system is designed to detect the launch of missiles from hostile nations and then guide U.S. missiles based in California and Alaska to intercept them. It was last in Hawaiian waters in January.
After arriving at its home station in Adak, Alaska, at the end of the Aleutian Chain, the floating radar system last year "successfully demonstrated its ability to operate in the harsh winter weather conditions of the Northern Pacific and participated in two tests of the Ballistic Missile Defense System," the Missile Defense Agency said in a news release last month.
Rogers said there are no plans to turn on the SBX radar while it is in port. However, during its maintenance stay at Pearl Harbor the floating radar platform may be taken out to sea to participate in missile intercept tests.
In the past, officials from the Missile Defense Agency said the floating radar system can pinpoint a pingpong ball 3,000 miles away with its high-frequency radar. The radar dome has been a frequent visitors to the islands and Pearl Harbor.
Last year the nearly $900 million rig had to return to Pearl Harbor several times for repairs before it finally made it to its homeport in Alaska. A leak discovered in its ballast system resulted in $1 million worth of upgrades.
Longer than a football field, the sea-based X-band radar is a high-tech, fifth-generation semisubmersible oil-drilling twin-hulled platform that is self-propelled and can be positioned anywhere.
The sea-based radar is considered a key part of the missile defense shield the military is setting up in the Asia-Pacific region to defend the United States and its allies against long-range missiles, particularly ones North Korea might launch.
The Missile Defense Agency completed integration of the SBX platform and radar in the spring of 2005.
SEA-BASED X-BAND RADAR
The high-tech facility is a combination of an advanced X-band radar and an oceangoing submersible platform:
» Cost: $900 million
» Speed: Classified
» Craft: Twin-hulled and self-propelled
» Length: 380 feet
» Height: 280 feet from keel to top of radar dome
» Crew: 75 members
» Range: Classified (but said to be able to detect an object the size of a baseball a continent away)
Source: Missile Defense Agency