A British RC-135 ‘Rivet Joint’, an electronic surveillance aircraft, is once again over the Baltic Sea monitoring Russian forces.

On these flights, the aircraft often patrols near the Russian border with NATO members as well as 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 few months for obvious reasons. American assets are also present.

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.

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 works for the NHS. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
1 day ago

What amazing pieces of kit these are and who else has this capability ? 🤔 ……..almost nobody. Another display of the RAF’s 1st rate capabilities that abody else wishes they had 😎🇬🇧.but don’t.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇬🇧

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 day ago

I still don’t really understand how it works or how that helps but I know they are worth their weight in gold.
I can get my head round the basics like listening in to radio chatter, picking up radar signals and working out where they are and power output to get detection ranges but that is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

JohninMK
JohninMK
17 hours ago

This capability is becoming more common primarily due to the reductions in the size of the electronics and sensors. At the same time computers and AI are reducing crew sizes.This combination is allowing the use of business jet rather than airliner airframes, reducing the cost and infrastructure overheads. This works well in smaller countries who may not have the complex requirements that the UK and the US have.

The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
16 hours ago
Reply to  JohninMK

Aye nae doot true dat however what we have is light years ahead of almost abody else. I’m just amazed the wee back street boys from yonder sooth with their negative negativity who don’t like anything positive haven’t waded in with the we haven’t enough routine and can’t be everywhere at once script 😂 however thankfully RAF kit is supreme Team and as Bruce Hornsby and his pals stated back in 86 “That’s just the way it is”

God Bless the RAF and all their Gucci shit that the pretenders are all jealous of 😁 👍🏻
🇬🇧🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

George Amery
George Amery
1 day ago

Hi folks hope all is well.
Has this activity intensified recently for obvious reasons and also to take up some of the heavy lifting from the US?
Also three is not enough. What happens for one in maintenance and one elsewhere, what are we left with for UK activities? A bit worrying.
Cheers
George

DMJ
DMJ
1 day ago
Reply to  George Amery

We only ever had three of the predecessor Nimrod R1 aircraft or believe the Comet one before that.

Tarnish
Tarnish
1 day ago
Reply to  George Amery

George, these aircraft replaced the Nimrod R1 of which we only had three. We managed pretty well with three during Cold War One.
The Rivet joints have certainly been more visible on tracking sites since the beginning of the Russian war.

Steve

George Amery
George Amery
1 day ago
Reply to  Tarnish

Many thanks Steve, good to know three are enough.
Cheers
George

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 day ago
Reply to  George Amery

3 is enough with this gold star asset George.

It has been 3 for many decades regards 51 Sqn and its ELINT/SIGINT assets.

In the Cold War the Nimrod R1 was regularly found over the Baltic, often intercepted by the Swedes too. These assets are used regularly.

You have to remember these plug into the wider UKUSA 5 eyes alliance. If we need one for a UK only op an USAF example would cover any NATO commitment.
If one is not available to cover that another intelligence asset will be used, be it land, sea, air, or space based.

George Amery
George Amery
1 day ago

Many thanks Daniele, always take note of your posts.
Cheers
George

Crabfat
Crabfat
1 day ago
Reply to  George Amery

There’s a NATO E3 Sentry which also patrols (C/S NATO001) plus a US UAV (C/S FORTExxx).

Mattq331
Mattq331
1 day ago

Awesome capability. Still shocking however that the air frames first flew almost 60 years ago. The Nimrod’s they replaced were roughly 10 years younger.

George Amery
George Amery
1 day ago

Hi folks hope all is well.
Many thanks for your replies to my post and nice to know that three craft are enough. I always take note of you experts on this site.
Once again thanks.
George