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The Cobra Judy radar was a ship-based radar program based on the US Naval Ship Observation Island [T-AGM-23]. COBRA JUDY operated from Pearl Harbor and was designed to detect, track and collect intelligence data on US. Russian, and other strategic ballistic missile tests over the Pacific Ocean.

USNS Observation Island was quietly struck from the rolls of U.S. Navy vessels and inactivated on March 31, 2014, ending the 30-year joint Army/Air Force Cobra Judy program.

Originally launched on Aug. 15, 1953 as the Empire State Mariner, a Mariner class high speed cargo ship, the ship entered the National Defense Reserve Fleet in 1954 after a few voyages. The Empire State transferred to the Navy on Sept. 10, 1956 and became the first ship equipped with a fully integrated Fleet Ballistic Missile System. It was officially commissioned two years later on Dec. 5, 1958 as the USS Observation Island.

On Aug. 27, 1959, the USS Observation Island made history as it launched the first sea-launched A-1 Polaris missile. After conducting six launches, the Observation Island provided support to the submarine-launched Polaris test program, providing optical and electronic data collection. Later, President John F. Kennedy watched a Polaris launch demonstration from the decks of the Observation Island on Nov. 14, 1963.

The AN/SPQ-11 shipborne phased array radar is designed to detect and track ICBM's launched by Russia in their west-to-east missile range. The Cobra Judy operates in the the 2900-3100 MHz band. The octagonal S-band array, composed of 12 288 antenna elements, forms a large octagonal structure approximately 7 m in diameter. and is integrated into a mechanically rotated steel turret. The entire system weighs about 250 tonnes, stands over forty feet high.

In 1985, Raytheon installed an 9-GHz X-band radar, using a parabolic dish antenna to complement the S-band phased array system. The five story X-band dish antenna is installed aft of the ship's funnel and forward of the phased array. The X-band upgrade [which may be associated with the COBRA SHOE program name] was intended to improve the system's ability to collect intelligence data on the terminal phase of ballistic missile tests, since operation in X-band offers a better degree of resolution and target separation.

The S-Band and X-Band radars are used to verify treaty compliance and provide support to missile development tests by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. The radars are also being used for research and development work in areas not accessible to ground-based sensors.

The ship is operated by Military Sealift Command for the U.S. Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. Electronic Systems Center provides sustainment while an AIA detachment at Patrick AFB, Fla. oversees daily operation.

USNS Observation Island is a converted merchant ship, modified first as a fleet ballistic missile test launch platform, then as a missile tracking platform. USNS Observation Island operates worldwide, monitoring foreign missile tests for the Air Force Intelligence command. The Military Sealift Command operates ships manned by civilian crews and under the command of a civilian master. These ships, indicated by the blue and gold bands on their stack, are "United States Naval Ships" vice "United States Ships" as is the case of commissioned ships.

U.S.S. Observation Island began her career as the SS Empire State Mariner. Her keel was laid on 15 September, 1952, at New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey. Following a short career as a Merchant Vessel she was placed in the Maritime Reserve Fleet. ON 10 September, 1956, the vessel was transferred to the Navy for use as the sea going facility for test and evaluation of the Fleet Ballistic Missile Weapons System.

The ship was commissioned as USS Observation Island (EAG-154) on December 1958. During conversion, extensive changes were made to the superstructure and holds to accommodate the installation of the first compete Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) Weapons System. From commissioning, until 27 August 1959, the efforts of the officers and men were directed towards the first at sea launch of Polaris Missile. The first launching of a Polaris test missile at sea was successfully conducted from the deck of the USS Observation Island about seven missiles off Cape Canaveral in September 1959.

Following this milestone and the subsequent firing of other Polaris Missiles, the ship began supporting Polairs launchings from the FBM submarines; USS George Washington (SSBN 598) being the first. On 15 December 1960, Observation Island was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for its performance during the first Polaris launches at sea. On 1 March, 1961 the ship successfully launched the new A2 Polaris Missile and on 23 October supported the first successful launch of the new A2 Polaris from an FBM Submarine, the USS Ethan Allen (SSBN 608).

During November and December 1961, Observation Island played the new role of survey ship on the Atlantic Missile Range. In January the ship returned to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for further modification in preparation for firing the new A3 Polaris and upon return to Port Canaveral in March 1962, rsumed her role as FBM submarine support ship which continued throught the summer. September and October of 1962 found Observation Island firing A2 Polaris Missiles on the Atlantic Missile Range. In late October, the ship departed for Hawaii via the Panama Canal for similar launches on the Pacific Missile Range. Meanwhile the role of submarine support was taken over by Destroyers mounting communications and telemetry equipment in portable vans. Up intil this time, every Polaris submarine had been supported by the Observation Island.

Observation Island departed Pearl Harbor in early December and arrived in Port Canaveral before Christmas. From late April until early June 1963, Obsrvation Island was expanding her role in oceanagraphic survey in ocean areas of the Atlantic Missile Range. Upon return from survey operations, on 17 June 1963, Observation Island made the first successful at sea launch of the new A3 Polaris Missile. Immediately after firing a second successful A3 Polaris on 21 June, Observation Island proceeded to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for further modifications. The ship returned to Port Canaveral in late August 1963, and supported FBM submarine launches including the first submerged launch of an A3 Polaris missile by the USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN 619) in October. On November 16, 1963, Observation Island was host ship to the late President Kennedy when he came aboard to observe a Polaris A2 launch at sea form the submerged submarine, USS Andrew Jackson. During the winter of 1963 the ship continued to support Polaris launchings from submarines as well as making several launchings from her own decks.

In March 1964, the ship departed Port Canaveral for launch and support operations in the Pacific Missile Range. In early June the ship returned to her home port, after a brief port visit in Acupulco, Mexico. The months from June to October 1964 again found the Observation Island in her familiar role as FBM submarine launching support ship, operating from Port Canaveral. On 14 October 1964 the ship departed her home port for operations in support of the Pacific Missile Range. Liberty ports during this deployment included Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and Hong Kong. The deployment ended with the arrival of the ship in Port Canaveral on 9 April 1965. The ship returned to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the summer of 1965 for a shipyard availability period of approximately two months. Following this overhaul period she returned to daily support operations out of Port Canaveral for FBM submarines and survey work in the Atlantic Missile Range.

The vessel was converted at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and in reserve from September 1972. On Aug. 18, 1977, Observation Island was reacquired by the U.S. Navy from the Maritime Administration and transferred to Military Sealift Command and reclassified as T-AGM 23.

On 14 May 1999, Raytheon Support Services, Burlington, Mass., was awarded an $11,824,227 firm-fixed-price contract to provide for operation and maintenance from May 14, 1999, through May 13, 2000, of the Cobra Judy and Cobra Gemini radar systems deployed on the USNS Observation Island and the USNS Invincible, respectively. There were four firms solicited and three proposals received. Expected contract completion date is May 13, 2000. Solicitation issue date was Oct. 20, 1998. Negotiation completion date was May 13, 1999. The 668th Logistics Squadron, Kelly AFB, Texas, was the contracting activity.

The fully equipped USNS Observation Island/Cobra Judy had a twofold mission: monitoring compliance with strategic arms treaties worldwide and supporting military weapons test programs. The two primary customers were the Air Force Foreign Technology Division and the U.S. Army Strategic Defense Command, a predecessor to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.

Cobra Judy provided the necessary high resolution metric and signature data on midcourse and reentry phases of ballistic missiles flights with particular attention given to the size, shape, mass and precise motion of the target. This information would help recreate target trajectories and define vehicle signatures enhancing future discrimination algorithms.

As the missile defense program progressed, Cobra Judy provided support to many of the missile programs, collecting flight data on both strategic and theater missiles and interceptors throughout the test program. In addition, Cobra Judy participated in Operation Burnt Frost, the destruction of the defective American satellite in 2008.

Over the years, however with few replacement parts available, it became increasingly difficult to support and maintain the Cobra Judy radars. Nevertheless, the USNS Observation Island continued to operate and completed its final mission in December 2013. It was replaced by the new COBRA KING radar system housed aboard the USNS Howard O. Lorenzen.

For more than 31 years, the Observation Island/Cobra Judy averaged more than 260 days a year at sea and completed 558 nationally sponsored missions. As Ed Hotz, a Cobra Judy program manager, observed this spring. "The information collected was critical in the development of shoot-down algorithms for both tactical and strategic missile defense systems; supporting international treaty verification; [and] providing national decision makers, from the president on down, with precise actionable data on world events."

General Characteristics, USNS Observation Island

Builder: New York Shipbuilding
Conversion: Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Company
Power Plant: Two boilers, geared turbines, single shaft, 19,250 shaft horsepower
Length: 564 feet (172 meters)
Beam: 76 feet (23 meters)
Displacement: 17,015 tons (15,468 metric tons)
Speed: 20 kts (23 mph, 37 kph)

USNS Observation Island (T-AGM 23)
Crew: 143 civilians

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