Pictures released by MOD show a UK Rivet Joint RC-135W signals intelligence aircraft taking off from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. The aircraft is one of 3 that MOD is buying from the US which, as part of the Airseeker programme, will provide the UK with a world class real-time signals intelligence and surveillance capability for forces in the air and on the ground.
The aircraft not only gathers data and vital intelligence using advanced sensor technology, but it is also able to carry out onboard analysis and distribute the information to be exploited by assets on the ground via its high-tech communications suite.
Since 2011, members of the RAF’s 51 Squadron have been operating United States Air Force Rivet Joint aircraft and ground stations to familiarise themselves with the aircraft and its capability.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:
These highly specialised aircraft and their supporting ground systems, bought off-the-shelf, provide Britain with a first-class intelligence-gathering capability that is value for money and another key part of our ability to interoperate with the US.
Having jointly operated US aircraft with British and American personnel for 3 years, this proven strategic intelligence and surveillance capability will be an excellent addition to the RAF’s fleet.
The 3 aircraft, converted by L-3IS in Greenville, Texas, from a Boeing KC-135 tanker, have been bought directly from the US government at a cost of around £650 million.
The MOD’s Chief of Materiel (Air), Air Marshal Simon Bollom, who oversaw the procurement of the aircraft, said:
The first flight of the UK’s Rivet Joint RC-135W aircraft, as part of the Airseeker programme with an RAF crew, is a proud moment for all in the Defence Equipment and Support team who have worked, and continue to work, so hard to deliver this outstanding capability to the front line.
We have procured an aircraft with a proven track record which has been successfully operated by the United States Air Force, with RAF crews under co-manning arrangements, for a number of years.
We have worked very closely with our colleagues in the US on this project and today’s first flight signifies the commencement of a new and potent air ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) capability in the RAF inventory.
The Airseeker capability, comprising all 3 UK Rivet Joint RC-135W aircraft and ground exploitation systems, operated by their highly skilled aircrews, ground crews and analysts, is due to be fully operational by mid-2017.
Airseeker joins the RAF’s ISTAR Force, which includes Sentry, Shadow, Sentinel and Reaper as well as the reconnaissance capabilities of our fighter aircraft.