Journey to the SBX
Part of the U.S. Department of Defense Ballistic Missile Defense System, it’s 280 feet tall, 380 feet long, with a displacement of 50,000 tons. Two out of three dimensions are comparable to an Enterprise-class aircraft carrier, and each of the massive pontoons upon which it sits are each the size of a Los Angeles-class submarine.
Inside the dome, often dubbed the “giant golf ball” (my wife and kids call it, jokingly, the “egg of doom”), there’s a radar array that can turn and pivot as it tracks missiles. That array alone weighs four million pounds.
As it has a fuel capacity of 1.8 million gallons, our guide, Lt. Col. Steve Braddom confirmed that they watch oil prices very closely. Braddom, who is with the army, said that the SBX is a multi-agency vessel, operated by a mix of military, maritime, and civillian crew members. The radar system was built and managed by Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems.
There was a lot of debate over what location the SBX would call home, although Adak, Alaska was gearing up to be its home port. But when the floating radar platform wasn’t at sea, it spent most of its time in Hawaii. And while the Missile Defense Agency said last year that it would be a “nomadic” vessel, it essentially became at least a part-time Honolulu resident.
Since then, the SBX has recently seen significant budget cuts, putting it into a “limited test support” status. But it will be maintained so as to be able to return to active, operational status when needed. It was deployed in April as North Korea tried and failed to launch a long-range rocket.
Curious as I was when the Sea Launch Ocean Odyssey platform came through Hawaii, the SBX is a much more intriguing and looming presence. I’ve always wanted to get a closer look… and thanks to the Public Affairs Office of Navy Region Hawaii, the hospitality of the Missile Defense Agency and the SBX crew, and the persistence of my frequent partner in crime Burt Lum, a few local geeks got to get an up-close and inside look yesterday.