There has been an increase in the frequency of British RC-135 aircraft being deployed to the Black Sea region near Ukraine’s border with Russia.
British surveillance aircraft being over the Black Sea near Crimea isn’t unusual but we are seeing a significant increase in the frequency of the flights over the last few weeks. American assets are also present.
— Sakai (@sakaijjang) January 6, 2022
It should also be noted that these flights are designed to be visible so that the public and Russia know they’re happening.
What does the RC-135W do?
According to the Royal Air Force website, the RC-135W Rivet Joint is a dedicated electronic surveillance aircraft that can be employed in all theatres on strategic and tactical missions. Its sensors ‘soak up’ electronic emissions from communications, radar and other systems.
“RC-135W Rivet Joint employs multidiscipline Weapons System Officer (WSO) and Weapons System Operator (WSOp) specialists whose mission is to survey elements of the electromagnetic spectrum in order to derive intelligence for commanders.”
The Royal Air Force say that Rivet Joint has been deployed extensively for Operation Shader and on other operational taskings. It had been formally named Airseeker, but is almost universally known in service as the RC-135W Rivet Joint.
The UK operates three of these aircraft.