May 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 1 
Integrated Defense Systems

Set to sail

Integrating Sea-Based X-Band Radar is a big job for Boeing-led team


Set to sailThe Boeing-led Sea-Based X-Band Radar industry team is moving toward sea trials after completing integration last month of the SBX radar with the massive, sea-going SBX platform.

SBX, a key element of the Missile Defense Agency's Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, consists of an advanced radar system mounted on a converted oil industry platform. SBX will be able to track, discriminate and assess long-range ballistic missile threats.

In an attack scenario, SBX would pass data to elements of the GMD system so that incoming enemy ballistic missiles could be intercepted by ground-based interceptor missile (GBIs) located at GMD missile sites at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The SBX also would continue to relay updated targeting information after an interceptor launched toward an incoming target.

This latest milestone marks "a critical step in further advancing the nation's defense against ballistic missile threats by delivering to the government a revolutionary sensor capability," said Paul Hoff, Boeing vice president and GMD program manager. "The addition of such a large-scale radar gives us increased confidence in the overall GMD system and added flexibility for defense of the nation."

As prime contractor for the GMD program, Boeing is responsible for the development and integration of the GMD system components. Among them: the SBX; GBIs; battle management, command, control and communication systems; early warning radars; and interfaces to the Defense Support Program early warning satellite system. Raytheon built the SBX radar.

SBX tips the scales on radar size and capability

By integrating the new Sea-Based X-Band Radar, the Boeing industry team has helped bring online the world's newest and most powerful radar in defense against the ballistic missile threat.

The SBX radar is so powerful, according to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), that sitting off the California coast it could see a baseball hit into the exoatmosphere (outside of the Earth's atmosphere) from the Camden Yards baseball stadium in Baltimore.

SBX's floating platform, a modified oil-drilling vessel, measures 240 feet (73 meters) wide and 390 feet (118 meters) long. It includes a power plant, bridge and control rooms, living quarters, storage areas and the infrastructure to support the radar.

The SBX, which sits 21 stories above the sea, is 1.4 acres (0.57 hectares) in size and would easily hold a football field, according to an MDA fact sheet. Not only is the rig's highest point taller than an aircraft carrier, but it is too wide to sail through the Panama Canal.

"Its physical size is incredible," said Boeing SBX Project Manager Bob Traister.

The SBX "heavy lift" integration of the radar onto its seagoing platform in April required use of a heavy-lift device capable of lifting 12,500 tons (11,340 metric tons) and built for loading massive structures onto production platforms in the petroleum industry.

The mating of the SBX radar onto the gigantic vessel required a 17-hour operation, completed April 3 in Corpus Christi, Texas. The SBX now stands more than 250 feet (76 meters) above the waterline and weighs more than 50,000 tons (45,360 metric tons).

The SBX radar "heavy lift" took place using a device capable of lifting 12,500 tons (11,340 metric tons) and built for loading massive structures onto the floating production platforms used in the petroleum industry. Assembly required moving the self-propelled SBX platform from Brownsville, Texas, to Corpus Christi for installation of the radar.

"All thrusters operated flawlessly as did the ship's engines," said Glade Holyoak, Boeing SBX construction manager. "Thousands of technicians all over the world contributed to the success of SBX. Getting underway for the first time on something one has nursed along is a professional thrill."

Over the next several months the SBX will undergo integration and a wide range of sea trials and exercises. Following testing, it will set sail around Cape Horn in South America and head to its primary base at Adak Island in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Though home-ported in Adak, it will be capable of moving throughout the Pacific Ocean to support both missile defense advanced testing and defensive operations.

Initially, SBX will provide the GMD system with advanced tracking and discrimination for the interception of long-range ballistic missiles. Over time, SBX would be used to support other missile defense systems within the government's layered ballistic missile defense architecture to intercept and destroy short, medium and intermediate range targets as well.

Dallas Clark, Boeing SBX safety manager, said the SBX team's work during the two-year time frame has been incredible.

"It has been with a great sense of ownership that we have all gone about our tasks of getting her ready to sail," Clark said. "We are all very proud to be a part of something of this significance."


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