The U.K. Royal Air Force (RAF) has received its first Boeing
RC-135W Rivet Joint intelligence-gathering aircraft, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said Tuesday.
[RC-135W Rivet Joint lands at RAF Waddington. Photo, courtesy of RAF.]
The aircraft is the first of three RC-135Ws that the U.K. has on order from the U.S. Air Force (USAF). Since 2011, RAF's 51 Squadron has achieved 32,000 flying hours and 1,800 sorties training alongside the USAF in preparation for their Rivet Joint system to enter service in late 2014.
RAF's RC-135W Rivet Joint is a converted KC-135R tanker, and will form part of "project Airseeker," providing electronic- and signals intelligence-gathering capabilities previously handled by the Nimrod R1, which was retired in 2011. Delivery was achieved ahead of schedule after the aircraft completed flight trials earlier than anticipated at L-3's facilities in Greenville, Texas.
“The delivery of the first of 3 Rivet Joint aircraft to the U.K. is a critical step in the re-establishment of a world class U.K. airborne signals intelligence capability," said Phil Osborn, air vice marshal and director of capability at the Joint Forces Command. "I know that the RAF and defense are looking forward to operating this key capability and building on the unique history of 51 Squadron. We plan to have our Airseeker program comprising all 3 Rivet Joint aircraft, with their highly skilled aircrew, ground crew and analysts, fully operational by mid 2017."
The U.K. is the first export customer for the Rivet Joint, and the British aircraft was delivered with the baseline 10.2 system, which matches the standard of the latest update for the U.S. Air Force Rivet Joint fleet.
Peter Ewen, director of air support at defense equipment and support (DE&S) for the RAF called the aircraft "a vital component of the nation’s future ISTAR capabilities."