The UK has agreed to buy three Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic intelligence aircraft and related ground equipment from the USA, defence secretary Bob Ainsworth has announced.

Confirming the development on 22 March, Ainsworth said the aircraft will deliver a "vital capability for the Royal Air Force to replace the [British Aerospace] Nimrod R1 that will be retired from service in March 2011". An agreement was finalised on 19 March, he adds.

"The Rivet Joint system was selected following an extensive assessment phase that considered a number of possible solutions," Ainsworth says. "Rivet Joint was selected as it is the only viable option that meets the requirements of our armed forces."

The UK Ministry of Defence will introduce the aircraft under Project Helix, a long-running effort to upgrade or replace its Nimrod R1 fleet, which was reduced to two airframes in 2009.

Operated by 51 Sqn at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, these will be the RAF's only active Nimrods from 31 March, when its last maritime patrol- and surveillance-configured MR2s will be retired. The Nimrod MRA4 will replace the latter type, and is scheduled to achieve delayed initial operational capability in October 2012.

 RC-135 - USAF
© Master Sgt Scott Wagers/US Air Force
The USAF expects to fly its Rivet Joints until around 2040

Source: Flight International