Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fidley Watch: Here’s Lookin’ at You

by Chris Philips, Managing Editor 

Since May 11th, much of Seattle has been abuzz (atwitter?) about a strange vessel that came to visit Vigor shipyard. The Sea-Based X-Band Radar-1 (SBX-1) was towed into port under cover of darkness on May 10th, and neighbors awoke to this large white orb. Speculation started immediately, and even though media tours and news coverage of the vessel allayed the fears of most, there is still a contingent that believes the ship is a sinister secret government project having to do with weather modification, strings of massive earthquakes, tornadoes, birds falling from the sky in triangular patterns and the disappearance of all garden insects in Seattle. (The editor lives just north of the City limits, and still has plenty of insects in his garden, so at least the SBX-1 is observing boundary lines).

The SBX-1 is an advanced X-Band radar mounted aboard an oceangoing, semi-submersible platform. It provides the Ballistic Missile Defense System with a missile tracking and discrimination capability that can be positioned to cover any part of the globe to support both missile defense operations and testing. The platform is twin-hulled, self-propelled (four azimuthing thrusters- one at each corner) and very stable in rough seas and turbulent sea conditions. It provides an advanced radar capability to obtain missile tracking information while an incoming threat missile is in flight, discriminates between the hostile missile warhead and any decoys, and provides that data to interceptor missiles so that they can successfully intercept and destroy the threat missile before it can reach its target. The radar is capable of tracking an object the size of a baseball from 2,900 miles.

The platform is 240 feet wide and 390 feet long, and rises 250 above the waterline and requires a draft of 30 feet. The vessel houses living quarters, workspaces, storage, power generation, a bridge and control rooms while providing the floor space and infrastructure necessary to support the radar antenna array, command, control and communications

suites and an in-flight interceptor communication system data terminal.
Construction of the vessel and integration of the payloads were completed in two Texas shipyards and extensive sea-trials were conducted in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

The SBX-1 was not in town to adjust the weather, but for routine maintenance and upgrades including power and radar upgrades and the installation of a cold-ironing system, as well as work on the thrusters.

It’s nice to know this remarkable vessel is looking out for us, and we’re glad a West Coast yard won the maintenance contract. At press time, our honorable representatives in Washington DC were squabbling about the budget we hope funding for the SBX-1 isn’t on the table.