HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Expect to see a giant golf ball structure at Pearl Harbor for the next four months.
Inside the white dome is the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Sea Based X-Band Radar ― SBX-1 for short. The MDA says it’s the world’s largest, most powerful mobile radar of its kind.
Media got a tour of the more than 280 feet tall customized oil rig that can be partially submerged to maintain stability during rough seas and winds of more than 100 miles per hour.
The 2,400-ton radar can be rotated ― an engineering marvel.
“We can look in any direction, we mechanically slow it,” said MDA SBX product manager Bob Dees. “We can also lift it all the way up to look straight up.”
About 72 crew members operate the vessel and rotate on and off every 9 weeks. They’ll be at Pearl Harbor for maintenance and more than $70 million of upgrades after their longest deployment yet ― 662 days at sea.
While other early warning radars can detect missiles, the MDA says SBX-1 can see targets more clearly to determine if it’s an actual threat.
“We look in look at the shape, look at the characteristics and could look at a lot more details,” Dees said.
Once a threat is identified, radars in Japan and Alaska work together with SBX-1 on precision tracking and data is sent to the interceptor station on shore.
“We have to see it in time that they can figure out that they want to shoot it, initialize the interceptor and get it launched, so that it can intercept before it gets to where it does some damage,” Dees said.
“We’re the part the long range part that can be reset, if they want to beef up coverage for an area or increase the time that they have for command and control and engagement to get more shots off or more decision time.”
Dees says the MDA is developing and testing new technology to adapt to evolving threats.
“Threats are getting more precise. They’re adding decoys and jammers. They’re adding things that make it harder a depressed trajectory means you’ve got less time to watch and engage the target,” Dees said. ”Long range hypersonic cruise missiles that fly lower, and you can’t see them as far over the curve of the Earth.”
While plans for a land-based radar system in Hawaii have stalled, MDA says SBX-1 and existing infrastructure are able to protect the state and the continental U.S.
“Very high levels of government are talking about what’s the right architecture mix between overhead sensors, ground based radars on land and surface radars on ships,” Dees said.
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