In case you missed it, the Royal Air Force has got its first RC-135W Rivet Joint flying in the UK, six months after lead example ZZ664 had arrived at its Waddington ISTAR hub.
A successor to the service’s previous Nimrod R1 fleet, the eventual complement of three Rivet Joints is on track to achieve full operational capability during 2017, the Ministry of Defence says. What’s notable here is that the “new” assets are modified from ex-US Air Force KC-135R tankers, all manufactured in 1964.
While the used aircraft each undergo a complete overhaul by L-3 Communications in Greenville, Texas as part of the conversion process, it was unclear how the UK Military Aviation Authority would view the inevitable gaps in their historical paperwork from prior operational lives. The good news from the RAF’s point of view is that it has been happy enough to allow it to commence training flights, using an initial release to service clearance. I asked, but the MoD wouldn’t tell me, whether there are any specific flight restrictions in place for now.
So that’s the RAF on the road to restoring its lapsed big-jet SIGINT-gathering capability (Crown Copyright image above). The big question as the UK advances towards its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review is whether it will be able to dig deep to acquire a new-generation maritime patrol aircraft fleet, following its controversial cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 as part of its 2010 review process.