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Floating ‘golf ball’ radar back in port

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The towering Sea-Based X-Band Radar returned to Pearl Harbor today for what officials said is expected to be a brief port visit.

Since the ballistic missile defense radar, topped by what looks like a giant golf ball, first arrived here in January 2006, it has returned frequently for replenishment and repairs.

In the process, Pearl Harbor has become its informal home.

About $9.4 million in work on the vessel’s thrusters and other modifications was to begin this month at Todd Shipyards in Seattle, the Missile Defense Agency previously said. Pearl Harbor is too shallow for the job.

Last October, the MDA said the work had to begin in March of 2011 to maintain the vessel’s certificate of inspection issued by the American Bureau of Shipping.

In mid-February the MDA, which oversees the radar, announced the availability of a draft environmental assessment for public comment for the planned maintenance and repair. Public comment was open until March 16.

A release by the MDA said the repair work could begin this spring and would take approximately three months to complete.

Two naval facilities, Naval Station Everett, Wash., and Naval Base Coronado-Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., are being kept as back-up contingencies.

This marks the SBX’s 13th visit to Pearl Harbor. The 280-foot-tall SBX is tied up on the west side of Ford Island.

The Missile Defense Agency said prior to this visit it had spent about $59 million for repairs and maintenance at Pearl Harbor on the one-of-a-kind $1 billion missile tracking radar.

Space News reported this month that the MDA canceled plans to buy long-range target missiles this year and reduced by 20 percent the total number of missile defense tests it plans to conduct during the next few years.

The SBX radar has been used in tests of ground-based missile interceptors in California and Alaska. It tracks, discriminates, and assesses the flight characteristics of ballistic missiles.

Ship-based missile defense capability is tested by the MDA at the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai. 


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