RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Reporters were allowed aboard the Sea-Based X-Band Radar yesterday while the craft is docked at Pearl Harbor for upgrades. The giant radome houses the craft's massive radar and is the largest air-inflated dome in the world. The smaller radomes are for communications. CLICK FOR LARGE
A closer look at giant 'golf ball'
The X-Band Radar will be upgraded over two construction periods
The high-rise Sea-Based X-Band Radar with a white dome that has become a familiar sight will undergo more than $27 million in upgrades at Pearl Harbor Shipyard over the next four months.
The 28-story, modified semisubmersible oil drilling platform -- five stories taller than the Ala Moana Building -- returned late last month after spending nearly six months in the frigid Bering Sea.
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: 398 feet
» Width: 240 feet
» Height: 282 feet from keel to top of radar dome
» Crew: 75 to 80
» Range: Classified (but it is said to be able to detect an object the size of a baseball a continent away)
Source: Missile Defense Agency
The radar plays a critical role in U.S. missile defense, tracking and identifying incoming missiles and warheads and relaying the information to interceptor bases in Alaska and California.
Army Col. John Fellows, X-Band Radar project manager, said that since January the fifth-generation, twin-hulled self-propelled platform traveled more than 3,500 miles in the northern Pacific undergoing a battery of tests. "The key thing was to verify its ability to operate in an adverse environment," Fellows said.
He said the $900 million platform encountered waves from 50 to 60 feet and winds with sustained speeds of about 80 mph with gusts up to about 115 mph.
The radar platform's time in Hawaii will be broken into two construction periods of 30 to 40 days. Between the construction periods, the radar platform will be taken out to sea for tests, Fellows said.
The modifications, which are being done by Boeing Co., include:
» Installing eight mooring and anchoring systems.
» Adding a second crane on the port side of the platform.
» Increasing its ability to launch rescue boats.
» Upgrading its fuel system.
Fellows said the amenities for the platform's crew of 75 also will be improved by installing a satellite television system and upgrading the ship's gymnasium and galley facilities.
Yesterday, Fellows gave reporters a quick look inside the now-familiar white dome, which is more than 10 stories high. The dome is the protective covering for the X-Band Radar, which weighs 4 million pounds.
Pressurized air keeps the dome in place over the radar system, which Fellows described as having 45,000 radiating elements that can be tilted and rotated in every direction. The Missile Defense Agency official said the floating radar system can pinpoint a pingpong ball 3,000 miles away and 250 miles above sea level.
Fellows said the floating radar system is so sensitive that it can distinguish a real warhead from a dummy one.
Besides searching, tracking and defining a hostile ballistic missile, Fellows said the radar also is able to assess whether the intercepting missile hit and destroyed the threat.
Information gathered by the radar is transmitted to ground-based missile interceptor bases at Fort Greeley in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The X-Band 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 from North Korea.