Nestled in the hallowed Hawaiian waters of battleship row, behind the rusting wreckage of the USS Oklahoma and the nearby USS Arizona memorial and the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor stands a true engineering marvel. This technological triumph is the Sea Based X-Band Radar (SBX), our nation’s single most capable sensor defending our nation against ballistic missiles. It is the sentinel of the Pacific, and its location in Pearl Harbor is a fitting reminder of the importance of its mission to ensure that the United States will never again be caught by surprise. This 103-foot high white globe on top of a 173-foot high floating platform has the world’s most powerful x-band radar within it, with over 45,000 transmit modules that can track, and discriminate the smallest, most complex stealthy objects in the clusters of ballistic missile debris, decoys and warheads traveling through space towards the United States from any nation in the world that borders the Pacific.
This Pacific sentinel has become an iconic symbol for the U.S. missile defense architecture over the past decade, but even before it was built when the idea of this powerful radar shattered the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and former Soviet Union. As the SBX was first piece of an effective missile defense architecture against North Korea that would have been forbidden under the treaty, it provided the initial impetus for the United States to withdraw.
Introducing the innovative idea to put this x-band radar on a mobile, North Sea oil rig platform to do both operations in Alaska and perform testing of a developing missile defense system was led by Lt. Gen. Ron Kadish. It took 400 days to build SBX in Brownsville, Texas in 2005, with its initial testing taking place in the Gulf of Mexico. It was then shipped around the coast of South America to arrive in Hawaii in early 2006. From there, it performed its cold weather testing near Adak, Alaska where it endured 80 mph winds and 60-foot swells. It was determined that the basing of the SBX was better suited and would be more cost effective if ported at Pearl Harbor. Over its ten years of operations, it has had 13 real world engagements, being deployed to the mid-Pacific for the protection of Hawaii and North America against ballistic missile launches from North Korea and as the primary sensor in the interception of a falling toxic satellite in 2008 by an Aegis BMD Ship. This latter engagement proved out the “engage on remote” concept – the ability for an interceptor to use a remote sensor separate from the system architecture it was launched from. This operational tactic is being leveraged around the world today to exponentially increase capability both regionally and strategically. The SBX has been involved with tracking, discrimination and targeting of all U.S. Ground Based Interceptor tests and has been participated in over 50 operational tests.
The SBX-1 remains an iconic symbol for the protection of Hawaii and our nation, and sends a clear strategic message to North Korea. In 2009, controversy arose when the SBX-1 was not sent out to defend Hawaii when North Korea threatened a long-range ballistic missile launch for fear of escalation and the Obama Administration’s alignment with former Missile Defense Agency Director, LTG Patrick O’Reilly’s desire to mothball the system and degrade the overall Ground Based Midcourse missile defense system. Overwhelmed by the U.S. Combatant Commanders demand for the SBX and North Korea’s continual ballistic missile and nuclear weapon development drove the Administration to reverse this ill-advised decision. In 2012 and 2013, SBX-1 deployed to the mid-Pacific against North Korea’s long range missile launches. Over the past decade, the SBX has averaged 205 days at sea, more than any ship that the U.S. Navy has deployed, and has traveled over 76,000 nautical miles. A complete civilian crew of 70 to 100 operate the platform at sea, and between 2009 and 2010, SBX-1 was deployed for 393 straight days. The SBX will continue to evolve in processing and discrimination and with the advent of the new Long Range Discriminating Radar being built at Clear Air Station in Alaska, the SBX will be asked to do more in both testing and in operations for the defense of the Pacific.
At 390 feet long, displacing 50,000 tons and capable of generating 21 Megawatts of power, there is no other radar in the world that can do what this radar does. Lt. Gen. Ron Kadish’s vision for this radar has been understated, and it is an absolute vital asset for the defense and safety of the state of Hawaii and the rest of our homeland.
MDAA was privileged to recognize and pay respect to all those that helped create, build, maintain and operate the SBX on its 10 year anniversary here on Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii this week. From MDAA’s first visit to SBX during its construction in Brownsville, to its 10th anniversary on Wednesday, we have been proud to stand with SBX every step of the way.
MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.
MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.