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Sea Based X-Band Radar Tour

Occasionally moored in Pearl Harbor, the Sea Based X-Band Radar is easily visible from the H-1 and has quickly become a 'landmark' of sorts for local residents.  Thanks to Burt Lum and his amazing contacts at the Pacific Command, we were granted a tour of this enormous platform.  Originally built by a Norwegian company, the basic semi-submersible rig was modified by Boeing in Texas for duty with the US Ballistic Missile Defence System.  This is where the giant Phased Array Radar was mated to the platform in 2006. 

To begin our tour, the group met up outside of Pearl Harbor at Schooners restaurant.  From there we caravaned over the Ford Island bridge and onto the island.  The giant SBX-1 was visible as we crossed the bridge and as they said, it's tough to get lost since it's always visible!  As we drew closer and parked our cars, it seemed like everyone was awestruck by the size and scale of the platform.  At 280 feet tall, it's about the height of an aircraft carrier. 

To get onto the platform, we climbed 151 stairs up the side of one of the legs...this journey was not for anyone with a fear of heights.  It was especially disconcerting because the stairs were comprised of (mostly) rusted grating and you could easily see far below you through them. 

Once we reached the top of the platform, we were escorted into the control room and the radome itself.  No cameras or cell phones were allowed past a guard station so the photo below is from the Navy website.   The dome is made up of a synthetic fabric and held up only by air pressure and is designed to withstand winds of 120 mph. 

To enter, we passed through an airlock that is necessary to maintain the air pressure inside the 'ball'. The Phased Array Radar sits on an immense track that allows it to rotate to follow it's target.  We were careful to step over the track that it travels on, and I noticed that it was held in place by bolts, evenly spaced about 15 inches apart and tightened with 6600 lb-ft of torque ! There were pivot points on the sides allow the array to tilt, providing a wide range of motion from horizon to horizon. 

Before we headed up to the helipad we visited the bridge of the SBX-1.  Yes, this does move under it's own power if needed.  The top speed is a leisurely 8 knots, and the platform uses (V-12 Caterpillar) diesel generators to power the electric motors for propulsion and station keeping.

So what exactly does this do?  In a nutshell, the SBX-1 provides detailed detection and tracking data for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM).  The system is linked to ground based interceptors and can target incoming threats, discriminate real from decoy, and determine the success of interception. The resolution is said to be capable of seeing an object the size of a baseball over New York, from San Francisco. 

Photo courtesy Burt Lum


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