US floating SBX radar spent month spying on N.Korea nukes – reports

Sea-based X band (SBX) radar. © United States Missile Defense Agency
A floating US radar station has returned to its home port of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, after reportedly carrying out a surveillance mission near the Korean Peninsula for the past month.

“The US sea-based X-Band (SBX) radar was sent to an undisclosed location off the Korean Peninsula for a one-month deployment after departing Hawaii in late September. It sailed back to its home port in late October,” a South Korean military official told Yonhap news agency on Tuesday.

He did not provide details about the mission and the radar’s route, nor did he specify the purpose of the deployment, citing security reasons, Yonhap noted.

According to South Korean broadcaster KBS, citing military and government sources, the radar was dispatched to the waters near the Korean Peninsula to monitor possible long-range ballistic missile launches by North Korea.

So far, the US government has not officially confirmed the radar deployment, although several media outlets reported that SBX did in fact leave its home port in Hawaii at the end of September, citing local residents who witnessed its departure.

The SBX is a floating, mobile, active early-warning radar station. It has a 116 meter by 85 meter radar system installed on its deck, which is capable of detecting a missile fired upwards from a range of up to 2,000 kilometers. Its aim is detecting and tracking long-range ballistic missiles and rockets, as well as determining their properties to help defend against them. The radar is said to be so accurate it could detect a baseball over San Francisco from the other side of the continent. The project has cost the US Pentagon some $10 billion, but according to media reports, it reportedly proved less effective than expected. 

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been running high since the beginning of 2016, as North Korea has started conducting nuclear and ballistic missile tests in violation of UN resolutions.

The situation has worsened since Washington’s recent decision to deploy sophisticated nuclear-capable bombers at its base on Guam in the western Pacific, and the announcement of the deployment of THAAD missile systems in South Korea.

The US and South Korea insist that THAAD will keep North Korean nuclear ambitions at bay, disregarding Russian and Chinese concerns over security in the region. The two states repeatedly condemned Pyongyang for threatening the security of the region through its policies, but also criticized Washington for interfering.

Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanguan said in early October that “some countries seek absolute military superiority, ceaselessly strengthen their military alliances, and seek their own absolute security at the costs of other countries' security.”

The US has recently been actively displaying its military presence in the Korean peninsula. Just this week, US ballistic-missile submarine ‘USS Pennsylvania’ has arrived in Guam. Last month, the US deployed a 3,500-strong armored brigade to South Korea for a nine-month “rotational deployment.”

Pyongyang repeatedly warned it is ready to battle the US “with nuclear hammers of justice” and that the North has all the resources necessary to battle US “nuclear hegemony.”

In September, Pyongyang confirmed it conducted its fifth nuclear test, announcing it now has a capacity to launch a nuclear attack. In October, North Korea allegedly attempted to launch another intermediate-range ballistic missile, according to the Pentagon, but the rocket reportedly failed immediately after lift-off.

In several days, the US, South Korea and the UK are scheduled to start Invincible Shield drills out of the British Osan Air Base in South Korea. It will be the first joint military exercise by the three countries, and Britain is set to send four Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets, a Voyager tanker aircraft, and a C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft to the region for the exercise.

North Korea however already condemned this prospect, demanding the United Kingdom to withdraw from the drills. Pak Yun Sik, the North’s foreign affairs representative, called the upcoming exercise a “hostile act” and a “[move] for a new war against [North Korea].”