Journey to the SBX

The Sea-Based X-Band radar ship, the SBX-1, dominates the horizon when it’s in port in Pearl Harbor, making headlines just by showing up.

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.

Check out the video I posted to YouTube above, or browse through some photos I posted to Flickr below:

6 Responses

  1. Kate Paine says:

    Hey. What about radar impact on animal/human health? C.G. Loran station in Kaneohe closed due to greater incidence of pediatric cancers in surrounding area. There are some of us who are concerned about this….blight on the horizon being in our port (along with military nuclear trappings). Behoves us to think outside the economic box when considering military presence on-island. There needs to be a balance.

  2. Ryan says:

    Aloha, Kate! The radar array doesn’t operate while the SBX is in port, as I believe they said it was flat-out prohibited by both federal and state regulations. As to visual blight, that’s a fair point, as this thing is pretty hard to miss. I guess the nerd in me finds it much more interesting to look at than some of the other man-made things poking up over the horizon.

  3. Great video. I think the SBX is a technological marvel. If we are going to have a Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam on Oahu with submarines, air craft carriers, destroyers, F-22s, C-17s and the like we should welcome the SBX. Larry Ellison can keep Lana`i pristine.

  4. John Miller says:

    First- Thank You and Thanks to Lt. Col. Braddom/MDA for making the time and effort to share this AWESOME capability with us! Secondly I will consider it a great privilege to share the video with my 89 “yr-young” friend and ex-engineering colleague, Joe Lockard. He was THE SCR-270 Radar operator on duty and the first to detect the Japanese a/c on that morning, Dec. 7th, 1941. I’m sure Joe will enjoy watching and commenting on it. Again-Thank You!

  1. June 30, 2012

    […] Ryan Ozawa – Journey to the SBX […]

  2. April 6, 2015

    […] was among a group of local geeks that got to board and tour the SBX in the summer of 2012. I took some photos (there were many places you couldn’t take photos) […]

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