The requirement for "eyes in the skies" for the West is needed today as much as ever with Russia, China, North Korea and Iran all pointing ballistic missiles at the United States or her allies. The Pacific Ocean is the largest body of water in the world and includes the Bali Sea, Bering Sea, Bering Strait, Coral Sea, East China Sea, Gulf of Alaska, Gulf of Tonkin, Philippine Sea, Sea of Japan, Sea of Okhotsk, South China Sea, and the Tasman Sea - these covering an area of over 165.2 million square kilometers and all proving to be potential hotspots.
If Ballistic missiles are fired towards American soil every second counts on recognizing the launch, tracking the identified warheads and acquiring a "missile kill" assessment. In August of 2002, the Boeing Company was awarded a contract for $31 million USD from the United States Missile Defense Agency (USMDA) to develop a new sea-based radar system for its Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). In January of 2003, the US Government contracted and purchased, from the Norwegian company Moss Maritime, a 50,000 ton semi-submersible seagoing platform for the new radar system at the cost of $900 million USD.
On April 25th, 2003 SmitWijs Rotterdam, a Dutch ocean-going tugboat, left Norwegian waters pulling the 50,000 ton platform from Moss Maritime beginning a journey across the Atlantic Ocean. On May 30th, SmitWijs Rotterdam brought the platform into the port of Brownsville, Texas and handed the product over to U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) authorities at the Keppel AMFELS shipyard for modification. During the refit, construction of the SBX radar unit was underway at the Kiewit Offshore Services Company located at Ingleside, Texas. On March 12th, 2005, with the eight smaller domes installed onto the platform, it was towed out of Brownsville on her way to Ingleside to receive the SBX radar after more than 20 months of refitting at Keppel.
The X-Band platform is some 390 feet (118.9 meters) in length and sits 240 feet wide (73.1 meters) while standing 280 feet (85 meters) high from the keel to the top of the radar dome. The platform is a twin-hulled design that can withstand high winds in excess of 130 mph and heavy sea conditions. The platform draft when underway is 32 feet (10 meters) however, once on station, the platform takes on millions of gallons of sea water to be used as ballast and the draft increases to 98 feet, 5 inches (30 meters). This is done in an effort to increase stability and reduce drift. The platform has a ship-type bridge, control rooms and accommodation areas for the 75-85 crew (some being military however most are civilian contractors). The spacious platform provides ample workspace for mission needs, storage space for 60 days of food, a helicopter landing/take-off deck and fuel storage for up to 1.8 million gallons of diesel. The platform moved at a maximum speed of 9 knots while weighing 50,000 tons. Onboard equipment is powered by six 3.6MW generators.
The radar dome (or "radome") is constructed using 22,000 modules and each module is installed with more than two transmit & receiving modules - a total of 45,000 mounted on the octagonal base. Signals that are transmitted or received by the radome require 69,700 multi-sectional circuits. To operate the thousands of circuits the array requires over a megawatt of power.The central dome has a flexible cover supported by positive air pressure and based on weather conditions - the air pressure is increased or decreased to maintain its rigidity. The radar dome, which itself is 103 feet (31.4 meters) high and measures 120 feet (36.5m) in diameter, weighs 18,000lb (8,165kg).
On April 2th, 2005, a heavy-duty double crane lifted the radome onto the platform and, by the 29th, the SBX dome was secured and the system connected onto the platform while still docked at Ingleside. With all work now completed, the platform was towed by the ocean going tug, Dove, into the Gulf of Mexico for sea trials beginning on July 1st, 2005. Upon successfully completing her trials, she returned dock-side at the Kiewit facilities. Her crew continued to train on her various systems and, on November 18th, 2005, the Dutch semi-submersible heavy-lift ship, the Blue Marlin, took the SBX-1 platform and departed from Ingleside on her way to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by way of the southern coast of South America.
The Blue Marlin was cleared for such heavy work for, in sorties past, she has hauled off shore drilling rigs weighing some 60,000 tons. The Blue Marlin floods her ballast tanks to lower the 120,850 sqft well deck below the water's surface. This allows the floating cargo to be positioned over the well deck for proper loading. The ballast tanks are then pumped out and the well deck begins to rise and, in turn, lift her cargo load which now resides above sea level. The Blue Marlin itself can cruise at 14.5 knots (26.9 km/h; 16.7 mph) which has proven a somewhat remarkable quality considering the combined weight of both ship and cargo.
By mid-December of 2005, Blue Marlin passed through the Western Straights of Magellan on her way to Hawaii and, on January 10th, 2006, she entered Pearl Harbor having travelled 15,000 miles. She now entered a period of refit due to the long sea crossing. After being released from repair and completing a shakedown in Hawaiian waters, the sea tug Dove towed the SBX-1 to her first assignment in Kulak Bay, Alaska. There, the platform was attached to eight 75-metric ton anchors embedding her into the seabed, this by mid-October of 2006. By April of 2008, SBX-1 had traversed over 4,000 nautical miles in the Pacific while on multiple mission assignments. On January 31st, 2010, the SBX-1 was involved in a test of a simulation centering on a North Korean or Iranian missile launch. The test failed due to a software problem as well as a failure on the test vehicle simulating the missile itself.
Scheduled maintenance was begun by Boeing in May of 2011, this at the Vigor Shipyard in Seattle. The SBX-1 received a $27 million radar upgrade. Work was completed in August of 2011 to which the SBX-1 departed Seattle for deployment once again in the Pacific. In April of 2012, the SBX-1 left Pearl Harbor and was assumed deployed to observe North Korea's threatened missile launch during the span of April 12 - 16. The SBX-1 again was again redeployed to the area to monitor yet another proposed North Korean missile launch to be attempted late in 2012.
On April 3rd, 2013, the United States Department of Defense indicated that the SBX-1 mission was intended to provide radar coverage for possible missile launch threats anywhere in the world. With her speed of around nine knots, travel time to Japan proved approximately 16 days from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The DoD also indicated the SBX-1 is to undergoing additional scheduled sea trials.
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