Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 9, 2003

Hawai'i could get missile-tracking radar

 •  Map: X-band radar sites

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Hawai'i could be home to a powerful missile-tracking radar built on a floating platform as part of the nation's missile-defense program.

The radar is part of a project from the Missile Defense Agency to target and intercept ballistic missiles in flight as a ship- and ground-based defensive shield.

The Sea-Based Test X-Band (SBX) radar platform, about the length of a Navy frigate, would spend up to nine months moored either in the Pearl Harbor area or three miles off the old Barbers Point naval base at Kalaeloa, and would be moved to one of three operational areas in the northern Pacific. It would have a crew of 50 and about another dozen shore-based personnel.

Five other locations for the radar platform are being considered, including California, Washington state, the Marshall Islands, and two sites in Alaska.

Because of the radar's potency, it could interfere with aircraft, automobiles and other devices if they crossed the radar beam. Navy officials acknowledged the radar can cause "electro-explosive devices" to detonate, such as automobile airbags and military aircraft ejection seats. They said the radar would be tested 20 times a month for 10 to 20 minutes at a time while in mooring.

"They will make sure there are no hazards to people, period," said David Hasley, who works in the environmental office at the Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

On Thursday, the Missile Defense Agency invited the public to comment on a draft environmental impact statement for the SBX. Written comments will be taken until March 24, and a final impact statement is expected to be released in August.

"Safety is a big concern," Navy Cmdr. Robert Dees, an SBX technical adviser, told the group of about 30 who showed up for the meeting. "The concern is, if we radiate an area it's (for maintenance while in port), and safety is more important, so we want to limit what we do — the directions we point in and the levels of field strength."

Hasley said the radar platform, which looks like an oil rig topped by a huge golf ball, likely will not be in place before 2005.

The Missile Defense Agency is working with the Federal Aviation Administration in Honolulu to address possible hazards, Dees said, but he admitted, "We don't know if we'll find a suitable way to run the radar."

Honolulu FAA officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Leandra Wai, who lives on the Wai'anae Coast and attended Thursday's meeting, said she was already concerned about radar emissions from military facilities at Ka'ena Point and Lualualei, and she worries about even more radiation if the radar platform is off Kalaeloa.

"We're going to be sitting in radio emissions from radar for the whole length of the coastline," she said. "Now, that feels pretty serious."

A similar SBX radar operates next to a housing area on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, Hasley said.

"You can use software in the radar — the controlling of it — so you can black out places to make sure that you don't have emissions set things off, and they use that at Kwajalein," Hasley said.

The SBX radar is not expected to radiate lower than 2 degrees from the surface of the water, and the Missile Defense Agency said there would be no adverse impacts to whales or sea turtles at least a half inch below the surface. The draft impact statement also said it is "highly unlikely that an individual would be on or substantially above the surface of the water for a significant amount of time within the main beam ... when the SBX radar would be operating."

Peter Yee, lead staff attorney and director of nationhood for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said the environmental impact meeting was underpublicized.

"We found out ... about this hearing the way that everybody else here did — through a small ad in the newspaper," Yee said.

Some at Thursday's meeting said a meeting also should have been held on Kaua'i. Hasley explained that while the program may use some of the missile launches of the Pacific Missile Range, "we're not going to build anything, we're not going to put in any more launch pads," and for that reason, a meeting wasn't held on Kaua'i.

A separate environmental assessment on Kaua'i recently found no significant impact for an Army plan to move a program aimed at providing U.S. troops protection against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Up to 50 rocket launches are planned over four years starting in 2005 as part of that program.

President Bush in December directed the Defense Department to begin fielding initial missile defense capabilities in 2004-05 intended to destroy ballistic missiles in the first few minutes of flight. Those capabilities include up to 20 ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, and 20 sea-based interceptors on Aegis ships such as the Pearl Harbor-based cruiser USS Lake Erie.

Tests would include the launch of a target missile; tracking by land-, sea-, air- and space-based sensors; launch of an interceptor missile; target intercept; and debris falling into open areas of the Pacific Ocean.

The Lake Erie, which was being used for short- and medium-range missile-heat testing, has become the dedicated testing ship for the Missile Defense Agency.

The latest of three successful tests of the system came in November when a target rocket was launched from Barking Sands and Standard Missile 3 fired from the Lake Erie knocked it down.

Boeing is the contractor for the SBX platform.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.

• • •