Pearl Harbor has become the X-Band radar’s informal home

The Sea-Based X-band Radar (SBX) pulled into Pearl Harbor again on December 22, 2010.  When the military originally proposed the expansion of its missile defense test range to include most of the north Pacific,  many opposed the project, especially the homeporting of the $1 billion Sea-Based X-band Radar monstrosity in Hawai’i.

We were relieved when Hawai’i was not selected as the site, but soon we saw the terrible eye looming on the horizon as it pulled into Ke Awalau O Pu’uloa for repairs and maintenance, or so we were told.  However, as this Honolulu Star Advertiser article explains, the SBX radar never spent a day in its Adak, Alaska homeport.

When it does head in, Hawaii has become the SBX’s home port by default. Ironically, in 2003, military officials considered but rejected permanently basing the SBX here. A spot three miles south of Kalaeloa was examined along with five other locations before Adak was selected.

Adak got the nod because it is between the “threat ballistic missiles” — presumably in North Korea — and the interceptor missiles in California and Alaska, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering III, then-head of the missile agency, said in a 2006 memo.

Instead it has been a kolea, wintering annually in the islands. The newspaper reports “The 280-foot-tall SBX, as it is called, has “loitered” in the vicinity of Adak several times, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said, but it has returned to Pearl Harbor 11 times and spent a combined total of more than a year and a half in port in Hawaii.”


» 2006: 170 days

» 2007: 63 days

» 2008: 63 days

» 2009: 177 days

» 2010: 51 days

» Dec. 22 to present

Source: Missile Defense Agency

The Honolulu Star Advertiser writes:

Like a loyal tourist, the massive $1 billion Sea-Based X-Band Radar platform keeps returning to Hawaii, becoming an instant focus of public interest every time it moors at Pearl Harbor.

» Size: 240 feet wide and 390 feet long

» Height: 280 feet from keel to top of radar dome

» Displacement: Nearly 50,000 tons

The Missile Defense Agency is tight-lipped about the reasons for never mooring the SBX in Adak as planned in 2006, but the Coast Guard raised concern over operating a 280-foot-tall oil rig ship in the unforgiving Bering Sea, where waves routinely exceed 30 feet and winds top 130 mph.

The SBX radar is part of the massive expansion of the U.S. missile defense system in the Pacific.  On the one hand, the system is anything but defensive.  Russia and China both feel threatened by the ring of missile defense sites encircling them, as these missiles could neutralize retaliatory capabilities in the event of a first strike by the U.S.  So they view the missile defenses as an escalation to be met by expanded offensive capabilities.   The expansion of missile defense systems is causing great political and social unrest in the places where the U.S. wants to station the facilities including Poland, the Czech Republic, Guam and Jeju-do, Korea.   Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands has already been taken over by the U.S. missile defense system, its native islanders crammed into one small squalid slum on Ebeye island.

On the other hand, the missile defense is a massive boondoggle for missile defense aerospace contractors.   As one former engineer from the Pacific Missile Range Facility told me in disgust, the system is not designed to work. It is only supposed to be improved incrementally, thereby keeping the federal dollars flowing. So perhaps the decision to homeport the SBX radar in Adak was only to ensure that Alaska got its fair share of the military pork through construction projects.   The program was initiated during the double reign of Senators Stevens and Inouye on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Meanwhile, the terrible eye is watching…


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