L-3 Communications has rolled out the first UK Royal Air Force RC-135 Airseeker signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft, the US Air Force's intelligence chief has revealed.

"I was also, about three weeks ago, down in Greenville, Texas, at the L-3 facility with Big Safari [the USAF office overseeing the development of intelligence platforms], rolling out the first UK Rivet Joint," says Lt Gen Larry James. "Their chief of staff came down and we had a great ceremony there."

James says he expects the RAF aircraft to be an integral part of the "worldwide intelligence collection process" for both the UK and USA.

 RC-135 - USAF

US Air Force

The UK is buying three Rivet Joint aircraft under the national designation Airseeker. The SIGINT assets started off as Boeing KC-135 tankers, which were completely refurbished and modified into the USAF's Rivet Joint configuration (above). The process of turning the 1960s-vintage machines into state-of-the-art surveillance platforms is "amazing", James said during an Air Force Association-sponsored breakfast in Washington DC on 18 April.

Flight testing with the RAF's first converted aircraft will start this "spring", James says, with the platform probably to be delivered during October. The UK Ministry of Defence has previously outlined a schedule to accept the aircraft in December 2013, and to place it into operational use in October 2014.

Responding to a query from Flightglobal, the RAF confirms that chief of air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton recently "received a progress update on the Airseeker programme and training of RAF personnel, and visited the aircraft that will become the first Airseeker." However, it adds that the routine visit to Greenville "did not signify that any sort of milestone had been reached."

Source: Flight International