By Barbara Starr
The U.S. military is sending its most advanced radar system to the Pacific region ahead of North Korea's expected launch of a long-range missile in mid-April, according to a senior U.S. Navy official.
The Sea-Based X-Band Radar sits atop a floating platform and has the ability to search and track targets. In addition, the system can communicate with potential U.S. interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, that could shoot down a target missile. But the North Koreans have said they plan to launch their missile in a southerly direction, which would mean it is highly doubtful the intercept capability would be needed or used.
The U.S. military will not officially say the radar is being deployed for the North Korean launch, but one senior U.S. official called the SBX-1 deployment "precautionary." Both officials declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information.
The Navy official acknowledged that the SBX-1 set sail from Pearl Harbor on March 23. The platform can operate hundreds of miles from the target area it is scanning, so it is not expected to sail close to North Korea.
Military officials have said they are worried the North Korean missile might be so unreliable that debris could fall on a number of Asian countries rather than into the ocean as the North Koreans have said.
SBX-1 is at best an odd-looking military asset. The platform is 240 feet wide, 390 feet long and 280 feet high from the keel to the top of the radar dome that sits on top of the platform. It is staffed with a crew of 86 military and civilian personnel. In 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered it to sea in advance of a North Korean missile launch at that time.