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British RC-135 Rivet Joint emerges from 18 month upgrade

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A British RC-135 Rivet Joint flew its first test flight from Greenville following an 18-month upgrade, said Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth this week.

It is understood that this aircraft is the first of all in the combined UK/US fleet to be given this upgrade to the flight deck and mission systems. Once trials are compete, the jet (ZZ664) should touch down in the UK later this year.

The United Kingdom purchased three KC-135R aircraft for conversion to RC-135W Rivet Joint standard under the Airseeker project a few years ago, let’s take a closer look.

Acquisition of the three aircraft was budgeted at £634m. The aircraft form No. 51 Squadron RAF, based at RAF Waddington along with the RAF’s other ISTAR assets. They are expected to remain in service until 2045.

The Royal Air Force describe the platform as follows:

“The RC-135W Rivet Joint is equipped with a variety of sensors, allowing its multi-disciplined crew to intercept and exploit emissions across the electromagnetic spectrum, providing both strategic and tactical level intelligence.”

The roots of the deal lie in Project Helix, launched in 2003, the aim was to study options for extending the service life of the Nimrod R1’s out into the next two decades. It wasn’t until 2008 that Rivet Joint was seriously considered. Helix became Project Airseeker, under which three KC-135 aircraft were converted to RC-135W standard.

The first RC-135W was delivered ahead of schedule to the RAF in November 2013 and the type has been used extensively to support British and allied operations in the Middle East and around the world.

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