April 2006 
Volume 04, Issue 11 
Integrated Defense Systems

Bon voyage, indeed

Bon voyage, indeed

SBX makes a stop in Hawaii en route to Alaska


Bon voyage, indeedIf they hurry, visitors to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, can observe a marvel of modern technology—the Sea-Based X-Band Radar—while it is temporarily moored in the famous harbor undergoing refurbishment and a much-needed paint job.

Late last year, the 50,000-ton SBX, a modified oil-drilling vessel, made its way from Corpus Christi, Texas, around South America, and through the South Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. A component of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's Ground-Based Midcourse Defense program, the SBX provides tracking, discrimination and hit-assessment functions. Its radar is so sensitive that "if a baseball were launched on the West Coast, it could be detected on the East Coast by this radar," said Pam Rogers, spokeswoman for the Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, Ala.

As prime contractor for the GMD program, Boeing is responsible for the development and integration of the GMD system components, including the SBX.

Bon voyage, indeedTo save time and reduce wear and tear on the radar system, the SBX—which stands 28 stories above the ocean—was loaded onto a heavy transport vessel, the Motor Vessel Blue Marlin (top and above) in November 2005 to make the 16,000-mile journey. "Using the Blue Marlin made the most sense for our program and for our customer," said Pat Shanahan, Boeing Missile Defense vice president and general manager. "We saved a considerable amount of time and resources. The transit time required by the Blue Marlin was less than half what the SBX would require under its own power." The loading process to position the SBX on board the Blue Marlin and making the vessel ready for the voyage took several days. The Blue Marlin—owned and operated by Dockwise Shipping B.V. of Breda, The Netherlands, and under the command of Captain Jurijs Ivanovs (below)—is the world's largest heavy-transport vessel.

Bon voyage, indeedToo big for the Panama Canal, the radar platform was routed south through the Strait of Magellan, arriving in Hawaii in January for refurbishment.

The SBX will head for its home port of Adak, Alaska, under its own power later this year. From Adak, the radar platform will move throughout the Pacific Ocean in support of advanced missile-defense testing and defensive operations. Over time, the SBX will help protect the United States, its deployed forces, allies and friends from potential missile attacks.



On the fast track

Glade Holyoak was the SBX construction manager for Boeing. Here, in his own words, he describes building the SBX system from the customer's request for proposal to the successful voyage to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii:

On the fast track Five years ago a group was assembled to provide a professional opinion on the viability of deploying a large, sea-based radar that would be mounted on a floating platform. In September 2005, the SBX system, including personnel and equipment, successfully tracked satellites while operating in the Gulf of Mexico. To be a part of this "first-in-the-world" project has been a tremendous ride filled with many ups and a few downs.

I joined the project in November 2002 during the design phase and was instructed that this project was on a fast track and would be successful. The prime designer for modifications to the oilfield platform was The Glosten Associates of Seattle. Several Gulf of Mexico shipyards were requested to provide conversion proposals based on a 30 percent design package with the successful bidder to participate in final design. Keppel AmFELS of Brownsville, Texas, was the successful prime bidder.

The first piece of steel for the conversion was cut on Sept. 25, 2003. After addition of about 5,000 tons of steel, all of the propulsion systems, living quarters, payload support infrastructure, and control equipment—and after completion of systems startup and operational testing—the SBX-1 departed Brownsville on builder's trials on March 13, 2005.

On the fast track After successful sea trials, the ship arrived at Kiewit Offshore Services in Ingleside, Texas, to integrate the radar with the vessel and install the radar dome. Other work, including installation of new seawater service pumps and mooring winches, also was accomplished.

SBX-1 completed two additional sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico. The final sea trial culminated in achieving American Bureau of Shipping Class Certification—required for unrestricted operations of the ship in all open oceans—and in demonstrating the system was capable of tracking satellites.

The next great adventure included loading the SBX onto a heavy-lift vessel, the M.V. Blue Marlin, for transit from the Gulf of Mexico to Hawaii. The professionalism with which this complex procedure was carried out was tremendous.

The success of a fast-track project depends on the expertise of the people involved. In my 30 years of management, I can sincerely say this project had the best of the best. It has been a real pleasure being associated with this team throughout the project.

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