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RAF prepares for final Afghan deployment with Nimrod R1

The UK Royal Air Force will send its remaining British Aerospace Nimrod R1 signals intelligence aircraft to Afghanistan later this year. The mission will be the type's last major deployment before its retirement in March 2011.

"Nimrod R1 SIGINT platforms belonging to 51 Sqn will deploy soon to contribute to coalition operations in Afghanistan," says Air Cdre "Flash" Gordon, air officer the RAF's intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance component.

"The deployment is expected to last until the platform retirement in March 2011," he told Shephard's electronic warfare conference in Berlin earlier this month.

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Currently equipped with two aircraft at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, the RAF's Nimrod R1 component has recently received unspecified upgrades, including to the type's communications intelligence suite, Gordon says. A third R1 was retired from service in October 2009.

The UK Ministry of Defence recently confirmed plans to replace its Nimrod R1s with three Boeing 707-based RC-135 Rivet Joint platforms. These will be equipped with the same mission suite employed by US Air Force, ensuring continuous and common equipment upgrades.

The UK's first Rivet Joint will be inducted into service in 2014. In the meantime, RAF crews are to be trained on USAF aircraft as part of a co-manning initiative.

In addition to the Nimrod R1 capability, the RAF has deployed several other ISTAR assets into the Afghan theatre of operations.

These include General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, Raytheon Systems Sentinel R1 airborne ground surveillance aircraft and the Beechcraft King Air 350ER-based Shadow R1. The service also flies Goodrich Raptor reconnaissance pod-equipped Panavia Tornado GR4s from Kandahar airfield.

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