Sea-based X-band radar program enhanced with new contract

The sea-based X-band radar system will receive data communication upgrades for its role in missile defense.

After years with a “limited test and operations support” status, the sea-based X-band (SBX) radar system is being refurbished for mission integration under a new contract between the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Gryphon Technologies LLC.

Gryphon is tasked specifically with upgrading and supporting the communications aspect of SBX operations as part of giving overall support for the SBX Strategic Mission, according to the Department of Defense (DOD) contract announcement.

The SBX radar system communicates vital information on the location and identity of airborne hostile missiles to the Ground Missile Defense (GMD) Fire Control branch of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). The GMD Fire Control system consists of multiple fire control nodes and interceptor launch facilities, and the SBX radar’s data is used to by the system to instruct the in-flight interceptors on engaging and destroying the hostile missile.

Use of X-band frequencies is the key to the SBX radar system’s unique ability to distinguish between enemy missiles and countermeasure interceptor missiles. X-band waves fall within the microwave radio region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Their frequencies range between 8.0 to 12.0 GHz frequency range, according to the Institute for Electronics and Electrical Engineers. As emitted by the SBX radar, the shorter wavelengths allow for higher resolution image data. Enabling advanced target identification and discrimination.

With about 45,000 transmission and receptor modules operating together to form the SBX radar beam, the MDA claims the radar can “see” an object the size of a baseball at a distance of 2,500 nautical miles.

The radar beam itself is a phased array radar, meaning the pulsed electromagnetic emissions are timed to cycle the incoming and outgoing signals, according to Air Force publications. Thus, as the MDA reports, the SBX radar system can simultaneously perform cued search, precision tracking, object discrimination, and missile kill assessment functions.

The SBX radar is also electronically steered and stabilized, which gives it a tracking coverage of a 360 degrees in azimuth and about 90 degrees in elevated conditions, according to a MDA publication.

The SBX system is mounted on a semi-submersible oil production platform, with the radar unit housed in a dome on top, reports Raytheon, an industry developer. The entire twin-hulled vessel is about 240 feet wide and 390 feet long. It can move under its own power, or be towed.

The initial full deployment of the SBX radar system was delayed in 2012, however the recent $57,675,835 contract marks the reactivation of the program.