Floatin’ Smokey: The USA’s SBX Radar
April 26/13: What’s My Role? The GAO looks at the Missile Defense Agency’s full array of programs in report #GAO-13-342, “Missile Defense: Opportunity To Refocus On Strengthening Acquisition Management.” With respect to SBX, it has this to say:
“MDA removed the SBX radar from operational status and placed it into a limited test support status beginning in 2012 due to budget concerns. Limited test support status means SBX will support BMDS flight and ground tests as appropriate, but can be recalled to active, operational status when warnings indicate a need…. By transitioning SBX to a limited test support status, MDA officials expect to save almost $670 million in operation and maintenance costs for fiscal years 2013 through 2018.
Because SBX is primarily used to support GMD’s defense of the United States, removing SBX from operational status also changes how the BMDS operates…. [Northern] command has developed alternatives for conducting engagements without the SBX. However… there is a difference in how the BMDS operates without SBX, the details of which are classified.”
Those plans likely involve the huge Cobra Dane PAVE PAWS radar in Alaska – but its sustainment funds only exist to 2015, and keeping the radar up to date is its own challenge. Replacing Cobra Dane would cost an estimated $1 billion.
April 1/13: Off the bench. The USA deploys SBX, sailing it from Pearl Harbor and toward North Korea in the wake of serous threats made against the USA as well as South Korea. Obviously, the Navy isn’t talking about exactly where it’s headed, but there are many safe places in the Pacific that offer a better vantage point for North Korea’s expected “test” launches. Chosun Ilbo | Hankyoreh | Hawaii News Now | KITV Hawaii | conservative Heritage Foundation.
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
Contracts & Events
FY 2012 – 2013
FY 2010 – 2011
FY 2007 – 2009
FY 2003 – 2006
Additional Readings and Sources
Background: Related Systems
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