Giant military ship coming soon to Seattle (or maybe Everett)

Feb 15, 2011

“It’s 25 stories tall and looks like a giant, floating golf trophy.”

The Herald of Everett takes first prize for describing a massive vessel the federal government plans to bring to the region this spring.

The Sea-Based X-Band Radar vessel (SBX for short) is, according to a release by the Missle Defense Agency, “an integral part of the nation’s Ballistic Missle Defense System” (BMDS for short; the military does love its acronyms).

The $900 million vessel, whose home port is Adak Island (pop.361), at the far end of the Aleutian archipelago in Alaska, is designed to sit in the ocean and track incoming ballistic missles. It’s due for routine maintenance and repair. Its structural and propulsion systems also need periodic recertification.

Why here?

The SBX requires a port with a minimum of 50 feet of depth. Todd Shipyards in Seattle, Naval Station Everett and National Air Station North Island in San Diego are the only suitable sites on the West Coast.

The Navy’s preferred site is Todd Shipyards, but the Missle Defense Agency is hedging its bets by filing an environmental assessment for all three sites, just in case of unforeseen glitches.

According to a “Fast Fact” sheet from the Missle Defense Agency, the SBX-1 measures 240 feet wide, 390 feet long and is 280 feet from the bottom of its keel to the top of the radar dome. It carries 86 crew members and can hold 1.8 million gallons of diesel fuel. Max cruising speed?  Eight knots.

The vessel is expected to be here for about three months.