A British RC-135 ‘Rivet Joint’, an electronic surveillance aircraft, has conducted a patrol over the Baltic states and Poland

On these flights, the aircraft often patrols near the Russian border with NATO members and around the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

This isn’t a new occurrence, in fact it is quite routine. The UK has long been gathering intelligence about Russian forces since long before the invasion of Ukraine and it should be noted that these flights are designed to be visible so that the public and Russia know they’re happening. If it was a secret, I would not know. Also, for those remarking ‘this isn’t new’, that’s right but people only know this happens often because it is reported often.

British surveillance aircraft being over the area isn’t unusual but we are seeing a significant increase in the frequency of the flights over the last while for obvious reasons. American assets are also present.

Image Steve Lynes, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. He also previously worked for the NHS. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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David Barry
David Barry
2 days ago

P8, 2 engined.
Rivet Joint, 4 engined.

Different airframes

Is there not some kind of ‘Stanflex’ that could be developed for aviation assets so we could standardise on one, FOUR engined airframe that could be optimized for its particular operation that week/month etc?

We can take airtanker and make them into transports, so why can we not have a common ‘spy’ fleet base of aircraft.

John Clark
John Clark
2 days ago
Reply to  David Barry

Evening David, it’s because the RC135 is exactly the same as the US examples, in fact it’s treated exactly the same as the US fleet, upgraded and overhauled in sync with the larger fleet.

Affordable and sensible procurement.

Build new ELINT platform based on the 737 or A330 platform and the cost would run into the billions.

David Barry
David Barry
2 days ago
Reply to  John Clark

Happy to be corrected John.

David Lloyd
David Lloyd
2 days ago
Reply to  John Clark

You would think that under the current circumstances – with multiple major wars breaking out – Schraps would buy the RAF the other two Rivets that they wanted

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
2 days ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

Problem is they are totally custom aircraft.

Do you mean RIVET or E7?

The E7 was mysteriously cut from 5 -> 3 with the radars for all 5 bought and paid for.

David Lloyd
David Lloyd
2 days ago

Yes, soz – but we do need more Rivets too. I expect the spare radars for the E7s will be cannibalized to keep the others operating

John Clark
John Clark
1 day ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

Totally agree David, we could certainly do with another Rivet Joint.

They really are absolutely key NATO assets.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
15 minutes ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

E7s mate, not these.
3 has been the number for decades re this capability.