HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Los Angeles Times investigation found that the huge golf-ball-like radar craft that spends a lot of time at Pearl Harbor has failed to perform its important mission: detecting missiles in a sneak attack against the United States.
The Sea-Based X-Band Radar, with its floating platform and huge round dome, are supposed to be able to spot incoming missiles and track them so U.S. rocket interceptors can destroy them.
"It's a unique asset. The only one of its kind in the world," said Lt. Col. Steve Braddom, the SBX project manager in an interview with Hawaii News Now in 2011, during a media tour of the craft.
But a Los Angeles Times investigation found the giant floating radar that cost taxpayers $2.2 billion has been a huge flop.
The Times said the radar's field of vision is so narrow that it cannot reliably track a sequence of incoming missiles.
The craft's sensitive instruments are prone to corrosion at sea and it needs millions of dollars in fuel to operate even for short periods of time, the newspaper reported.
"The military has a long history of these defense projects that don't always work out so well. And part of it is because they're not always making decisions purely on the merits of the technology," said UH Political Science Professor Colin Moore, a Hawaii News Now political analyst.
The main contractors on the project are Boeing and Raytheon companies, among the world's biggest defense contractors and major political donors.
The LA Times reported the project was downgraded to "limited test support status" in 2012, and the radar sat idle at Pearl Harbor for more than eight months in 2013.
"We've spent a great deal of money on a system that doesn't seem to work very well and there are alternative systems, land-based systems that would have been cheaper and it turns out would have worked much better," Moore said.
The project not only wasted money but left a hole in the country's missile defenses, the LA Times reported.
Missiles from North Korea could arrive in Hawaii within about a half hour from launch, making the islands vulnerable to an attack, experts said.
Reached for comment , a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency told Hawaii News Now the SBX radar "has performed and continues to perform its mission as designed. We continue to improve and enhance its performance."
The sea-based radar craft was supposed to become fully operational in 2005, during the Bush administration, the LA Times reported. Instead it spends most of its time mothballed at Pearl Harbor, the newspaper said.
Over the last decade, Missile Defense Agency has spent $10 billion into the SBX project and three other programs that were killed or sidelined after they proved unworkable, the Times reported.