The UK Ministry of Defence will sign a contract within the next few weeks to replace its British Aerospace Nimrod R1 electronic intelligence aircraft, having deemed the capability an essential element of its future military equipment inventory.

Once finalised, the deal will advance the planned acquisition of three stored Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint airframes from the US government. These will be modified for operational use by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems in the USA.

 RC-135 - Craig Hoyle FINT
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

Confirming that a previous proposal to modify BAE Systems' three development examples of the Royal Air Force's new-generation Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft has been rejected, a senior military source says the Rivet Joint contract will be signed "within weeks".

"We have the approvals, and we have an agreement. We just don't have a contract yet," the source adds.

Long-term activities with the RAF's remaining two Nimrod R1s had appeared to be at risk following the MoD's surprise move in December to accelerate the retirement of its remaining Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol aircraft. Its last Kinloss-based MR2s will stop flying by 31 March, a year sooner than previously planned, and two years before the last of nine replacement MRA4s will be handed over.

 Nimrod R1
© Crown Copyright

The military source says operations with the R1 (above) will be safeguarded until the new Rivet Joint assets become available, partially by using cost savings generated by the MR2 fleet retirement. "There will be no capability gap," the source adds.

A third R1 airframe - XW655 - was retired from service late last year.

Source: Flight International