Photo by Steve Shay

Sea Based X-Band Radar (SBX) vessel up close and personal at Vigor Shipyard

The Missile Defense Agency's Sea-Based X-band Radar (SBX) diesel vessel, 250-feet high, cruised along Elliott Bay poking the Seattle skyline Tuesday night, and pulling into the Vigor Shipyards (formerly Todd Pacific Shipyards), just after midnight Wednesday.

A press conference this morning unveiled some facts about our new neighbor that will remain for repairs through the summer. Steve Welch, former CEO of Todd Shipyards, a 95-year company, acquired by Vigor about 10 weeks ago, opened things up. He is now president of Vigor.

You can view our slideshow of the radar entering Seattle and docking last night here:

Col. Mark Arn, a West Point graduate, has been involved with the SBX, and was 2009 program manager of the year with SBX. All the X-Band radars fall under Arm, He gave an overview, "Its radar sits on top of a semi-subversible platform. Some call the radar the 'big golf ball'. We are doing routine maintenance, upgrades, some enhancements, including our generators providing shore power, and we have to maintain certification with the American Bureau of Shipping. (5-Year renewal) Thrusters require inspection, and we replace some shaft seals and inspect upper and lower gear boxes. We needed a minimum of 50-foot depth.

"We spend over 300 days a year at sea. It's maneuverable and has been all over the Pacific. It tracks small objects at very large, very long distances. You could put the SBX in Chesapeake Bay and it can track a baseball hit high outside Safeco Field. Radar is an 85-foot octagonal, 2100 tons."

The platform submerges over 70 feet when at sea.

"It's extremely important," he said of the radar. "This is an integral part of the ballistic missile defense system. It gives the ability to discriminate between what is a lethal object vs. what is a decoy or debris. There is only one. This is one of a kind. It moves on its own, coming in here about 7 knots. It can move slightly faster. It performs extremely well in high winds and waves.

"It can berth 100 folks, but typically the crew is 85 to 90. This is contract (civilian) manned and operated. We have a contract with Boeing.

"To start operating the radar is not just a flip of a switch or pushing a button. There are a lot of switches to turn it on. It is not operational here. When we were 50 miles off the coast that was the last time we could use the radar."

He did not explain why it is against policy not to operate the radar in populated areas but said no danger exists if it did.

Vigor COO, David Whitcomb took some media closer to the deck.

There, Lieutenant Col. Rich Jaymes told the West Seattle Herald, "The main deck has work space, sleeping space, very nice dining facility. We have a gym, the Internet for people to keep in touch with family. When people are out at sea it's almost like having your own little autonomous city. Very interesting mission. Very interesting job."

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