The UK has received its second of an eventual three Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft, and detailed a package of enhancements that have been introduced with the refurbished jet since its lead example entered Royal Air Force use more than a year ago.
Aircraft ZZ665 was accepted at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, as the UK’s Waddington base is currently closed for runway resurfacing.
The arrival of the second aircraft happened seven months ahead of schedule and the Ministry of Defence says it “will be deployable on operations within a matter of weeks”. A first aircraft “is currently employed alongside other RAF units in the fight against ISIL supporting operations in Iraq and Syria”, it adds.
“Since delivery of the first aircraft last year, over 60 improvements have been incorporated into the second aeroplane, ranging from upgrades to the aircraft’s mission systems to engine improvements providing increased fuel efficiency and durability,” the MoD says. The RAF’s lead example, ZZ664, is to later “undergo an upgrade programme to bring the aircraft in line with the improvements made on the second”, it adds.
The final aircraft to be delivered under the roughly £650 million ($988 million) Airseeker programme will be handed over during 2017, following its conversion from a surplus KC-135 tanker by US-based L-3 Communications in Greenville, Texas.
Describing the role of the SIGINT platform, the MoD says: “The Airseeker 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.”
According to data released by the MoD, each of the RAF’s RC-135Ws can operate with a crew of two pilots, one navigator and up to 25 mission crew. The type can be operated up to an altitude of 50,000ft, it says.