Floatin’ Smokey: The USA’s SBX Radar
August 17/18: Sea-based BMD The Navy is contracting TOTE Services to support SBX-1. The company is being awarded with a firm-fixed-price contract valued at $11.1 million. The company will be responsible for operating and maintaining the Sea-Based X-Band Radar vessel. The X-band radar, also known as the SBX, was originally planned as a land-based system but a sea-based system became possible when the Bush administration withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It constitutes a mid-course fire control radar based on a seagoing semi-submersible vessel. The $815 million, mechanically-slewed, X-band phased array assembly is 280 feet tall, and weighs 2,400 tons. The radome alone weighs 18,000 pounds, stands over 103 feet high, and is 120 feet in diameter. Made entirely of a high-tech synthetic fabric, the radome is supported by air pressure alone, and is designed to withstand 130+ mph winds and a “100-year storm” at sea. The radar performs cued search, precision tracking, object discrimination and missile kill assessment. The in-flight interceptor communication system data terminal transfers commands from the GMD fire control system to the interceptor missile during its engagement with the target missile. This contract is scheduled for completion by September 2019, but does include several options which could extend the contract until end of March, 2024. The total cumulative value of this contract would rise to $65.3 million, if all options are exercised.
As rogue state proliferation by the likes of North Korea made missile defense a growing priority for nations including the USA, Japan, and Israel, the USA began to look at the linchpin of any defense: powerful radars that could both track ballistic missiles, and guide interceptors. The USA has its BMEWS tracking system, but that would not serve. America’s Safeguard ABM system was dismantled long ago – though Russia still maintains its counterpart System A-135 network around Moscow. Something new would be needed.
Enter Raytheon’s new XBR radar, based on an SBX-1 platform that looks a lot like a mobile oil drilling rig. Basing the radar at sea offers numerous advantages. One is the obvious ability to move the radar as threats materialize, allowing much greater coverage with fewer radars. Another is the ability to protect allies, without having to invest in expensive systems whose regional capabilities and value to the USA could be put at risk by the decisions of a single foreign government. In exchange for this freedom from political interference, of course, the designers must contend with nature’s interference in the stormy Pacific.
Boeing SBX system is linked to its land-based GMD (Ground-based Mid-course Defense) missile system but can also operate with other naval and land elements.
The XBR Radar and SBX Platform
The XBR Radar
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