British RC-135 electronic surveillance aircraft continue to operate over the Black Sea near Ukraine, with two in the area at the one time.

The UK has been increasing the frequency of such flights in order to gather intelligence but it’s usually only one British aircraft at a time with US aircraft also present.

As we need to post this each time, here’s the usual disclaimer. 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, it’s rare for two British aircraft to be up at the one time as the UK only has three of this aircraft type.

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
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
59 Comments
oldest
newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mr Bell
Mr Bell
1 month ago

The Rivet Joint aircraft are proving very useful. Anyone know their out of service date? Is this another looming capability gap?

Goldilocks
Goldilocks
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

The US and UK agreed to keep supporting RC-135 operations until 2035, and so I think that is its planned OSD date.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
1 month ago
Reply to  Goldilocks

By which stage we will have had a lot of use from them and they will be very old.

Technology marches on.

That isn’t to say that they won’t be upgraded between now and then…..

We have always had 3 NIMROD R and now 3 of these. Likely to be replaced with 3 more.

I suspect we have more than one crew for each given the flying tempo?

johan
johan
1 month ago
Reply to  Goldilocks

There is a design on the board from Boing to upgrade and insert the kit into a Modern airframe. but it was based on the 757 due to the surplus 767 capacity taken up with the Pegasus build.
Boing stop making the 757 a while ago.
the issue is the kit is still large and complex and heavy and needs a large airframe, larger than a 737.

Brooklyn
Brooklyn
1 month ago
Reply to  Goldilocks

I am making $92 an hour working from home. i was greatly surprised at the same time as my neighbour advised me she changed into averaging $ninety five however I see the way it works now. I experience mass freedom now that I’m my non-public boss. 
That is what I do.. http://www.profit97.com

Last edited 1 month ago by Brooklyn
Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Bell
John N
John N
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

Hopefully for the RAF the USAF continues to operate well into the future, but if the USAF retires their fleet early, then support and sustainment becomes an issue. This became a problem for the RAAF with the F-111C and F-111G fleets. The USAF retired their last F-111F in 1996 and the EF-111A in 1998. Fortunately the RAAF had access to all the retired airframes parked in the Boneyard for spares, wings, engines, etc, but when you become the sole user of a very complex aircraft system, it gets harder and expensive too. The F-111C fleet was suppose to operate until… Read more »

Daniel
Daniel
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

When the time comes this seems like the sort of system that can be relatively easily migrated to whatever is then the USAF’s preferred COTS platform of choice. An order that the RAF should hopefully be able to tag along to for only 3 airframes.

Nicholas
Nicholas
1 month ago

Not sexy or massive weapons platforms but ‘quietly’ and efficiently going about their vital tasks.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Nicholas

Sexy? They are for me. This area is where a difference is made and where the UK excel.

If the choice was losing a FJ Sqn or these I lose the FJ Sqn

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago

See the weapons systems operators they say are inside they aircraft, are they similar to the weapons system officer that rode back seat in the tornado?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

Similar in what way?

The people on board I visualise as similar to inside an AWACS. Monitoring equipment and consoles and adjusting systems.

I know lots of the really interesting roles linked to the RC135 are not on board but back in UK. There are several small discrete units and the RAF, wider MoD and intell community linked to this capability. They’re easy to spot on things like Linkedin as I know the units involved.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago

Similar in that they both have the same job title. Apart from that I don’t know what goes on in a rivet joint. Was just thinking what happened to the backseat tornado officers and then thought maybe some went to river joint. Sunday afternoon day dreaming

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago

Interesting that Russia is now handing Belarus nuclear capable medium range ballistic missiles. It will not change the balance of strategic nuclear forces much. But it’s a very significant ramping up of tension. Putting a wider number areas under threat from short range ballistic missiles. If he provides nuclear weapons to Belarus that’s going to give the West a really difficult issue to respond to, without escalating nuclear tension even more. Putin seems to not really care how far and how he pushes the west anyone, which is a real worry. The only response I can see is an expansion… Read more »

JohninMK
JohninMK
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Given the timing, the move looks to be in response to Lithuania restricting some Russian goods allowed on their trains, by treaty from when Lithuania joined the EC, to/from Kaliningrad due to sanctions. This is a follow up to the announcement from Belarus in mid December 2021 that they would be pleased to host Russian nuclear weapons. Note that the Russians are not “handing” them over but are basing their weapons in Belarus, same as US nuclear weapons in Europe. It seems to apply to the Iskander and air-launched weapons. Its likely that there are suitable facilities in place left… Read more »

DMJ
DMJ
1 month ago
Reply to  JohninMK

We are still awaiting your condemnation of the Russian invasion and the war crimes of your so called army?

Airborne
Airborne
1 month ago
Reply to  JohninMK

A weak effort at trying to intimidate the west due to Putin having very few options left! Belarus, that honest, open, democratic country with the crack fighting force the Belarus military! Ha haaaaaaaa more desperate chuff as Russia is suffering no matter the Shite you push out! Any condemnation of Putins illegal invasion of Ukraine yet, before he hopefully dies?

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
1 month ago
Reply to  Airborne

Careful.

The Belarusian forces might be better than the Russian forces. It would be an achievement for them to be worse…..!!

Sean
Sean
1 month ago

Unbelievable as it sounds, they are actually worse 😳

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
1 month ago
Reply to  Sean

On a good day …

Last edited 1 month ago by Barry Larking
Airborne
Airborne
1 month ago

No way 😂😂👍

Sean
Sean
1 month ago
Reply to  JohninMK

Tell me John. Is it a case that you:
(a) approve of rape, torture and murder in general, or
(b) only approve when rape, torture, and murder is performed by Russian troops?

I ask because we’re all still waiting for you to condemn Russia’s war-crimes.

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
1 month ago
Reply to  Sean

Yes. We eagerly await John’s views on flattening civilian suburbs, strategic old people’s homes, hospitals, schools, bus stops (with or without piles of the dead and innocent) … Any day now. Waiting … Waiting …

Tams
Tams
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Larking

Even just today Russia flattened a block of flats nowhere near any fighting and created a crater in a nursery school playground.

But I bet JohninMK would call the ‘precision’ fire.

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
1 month ago
Reply to  JohninMK

The shorter version for those in a hurry: Bluster.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Wow. I mean most of the population of Belarus hate the leader and given an opportunity they will over throw the current government with hopes of free and fair elections. I would of thought the current leader would be keeping a low profile

Sean
Sean
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Doesn’t make a huge difference. Putin has based these missiles in Kaliningrad, now he’s arm twisted Belarus to accept them too. It’s more ineffectual posturing by Putin, try to give the impression he’s acting decisively when he’s just shuffling pieces around.

Farouk
Farouk
1 month ago

Here is something I read about the Russian equivalents (As usual it will self-delete in 7 days)
comment image

Farouk
Farouk
1 month ago
Reply to  Farouk

Part 2:
comment image

Farouk
Farouk
1 month ago
Reply to  Farouk

Part 3:
comment image

Farouk
Farouk
1 month ago
Reply to  Farouk

Part 4:
comment image

Farouk
Farouk
1 month ago
Reply to  Farouk

Part 5:
comment image

Farouk
Farouk
1 month ago
Reply to  Farouk

Part 6:
comment image

Netking
Netking
1 month ago
Reply to  Farouk

Thank you for posting these.

JohninMK
JohninMK
1 month ago
Reply to  Netking

Thanks from me too, a very interesting read. Clearly an area where the Russians have invested significant expertise.

DMJ
DMJ
1 month ago
Reply to  JohninMK

As with their investing in significant expertise in rape, murder and other war crimes. You must be so proud of your thugs?

dan
dan
1 month ago
Reply to  JohninMK

Like everything else in the Russian military it has been way over hyped over the decades. Russia is proving to be an amateur army with poor leadership and training. They are basically using their troops as cannon fodder to make progress. They have shown little too no professionalism in their war against Ukraine.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago
Reply to  dan

They will have a Russian with big listening horn sitting in the radar dome.

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
1 month ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

Crack engineers and technicians are working flat out to ensure that by this time next year he will have a cushion!

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Larking

Wait till you see the big upgrade To there targeting pod coming. A man with binoculars shouting left a bit, right a bit.

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
1 month ago
Reply to  dan

The obliterated thrust er, I mean, brilliant feint towards Kyiv last February had the Russian’s crack thuggory forced to use mobile phones ‘liberated’ from the euphoric Ukrainian people. Calls that were intercepted with ease. “Hullo. Moscow here. Has General Slobov arrived? He’s there … Yes, those are the GPS co-ordinates I have here … What was that bang?”

Simon
Simon
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Larking

😀

Airborne
Airborne
1 month ago
Reply to  JohninMK

Not at all, the Russians have invested in many areas of expertise, such as corruption, dishonesty, incompetence, murder, rape, torture, murder of opposition members, alcoholism, stupidity, blackmail and selling off their military kit! Any condemnation of Putins illegal invasion of Ukraine yet troll?

Sean
Sean
1 month ago
Reply to  JohninMK

Along with expertise in take, torture, and murder? Gosh they have been busy.

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
1 month ago
Reply to  JohninMK

They have now scooped up thousands of hours of a mystery voice repeating the phrase “Your call is important to us …”

dan
dan
1 month ago

A great piece of kit that does an incredible job mostly in the shadows. These planes pick up just about every EM signal the Russians are putting out and geolocating the source. From radars to comms to jammers, ect. Btw, US U-2S Dragon Ladies, Sats and other manned/unmanned aircraft are also up there helping soaking up the EM emissions.

Sean
Sean
1 month ago
Reply to  dan

I hope they have a direct link to the Ukrainian military to pass on targeting data.

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
1 month ago
Reply to  Sean

Lots of stone dead Russian Generals say you are not wrong.

DaveyB
DaveyB
1 month ago

I’m surprised Russia haven’t publicised an Exclusion Zone over the Northern part of the Black Sea by now? Having these and other ISTAR assets flying near to their coast must be pissing them off. Especially as they are hoovering up vast amounts of intelligence and data and probably feeding it back to Ukraine.

Crabfat
Crabfat
1 month ago
Reply to  DaveyB

For what it’s worth, the Rivets and Poseidons from UK an USA are working approx 100 miles south of Crimea and not far from a main NW/SE civvy air corridor. For even the Russians to declare an air exclusion zone there would, I fear, would involve a real risk of an ‘accidental’ shooting down of a civilian airliner.

NATO EC-3s are also working a similar distance from the western border of Ukraine, over Romainian airspace and with Moldova in between. So a western exclusion zone would not be possible IMO.

All my own crude estimates, by the way.

Frank62
Frank62
1 month ago

Seems to me escalation is what happens when all Ukraines neighbours stand back from intervening to push Russia out of there. All we do is allow Putin time & space to learn from his mistakes & redeploy his troops so he can manage his offensives at a rate he can gain ground. All the while Ukraine is ground down at appalling cost of lives, misery & destruction. The world has changed for the worse & the sooner we wake up & smell the coffee the better.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank62

I thought as soon as Russia withdrew from Kiev/north Ukraine nato/coalition of the willing should have been ready to take the ground upto the dnieper river going south to Odessa. Give transnistia a 25 mile gap so not to be right on the border. Call it a special operation to protect the innocent people from nazis. I don’t think any fighting would of happened in this area and an air defence bubble could of tried to be established.

Simon
Simon
1 month ago

Odd to see a few pro Russia posts on here. Putin is abhorrent. It does question again why did we get involved in Afghanistan and Iraq? In answer to a Russian posters, the west tried not to target civilians, which Russians do not care about civilians or perhaps even their own conscripted soldiers.

dan
dan
1 month ago
Reply to  Simon

Russia has never cared about civilian losses nor how many of their own troops gets killed. They just throw wave after wave of poorly trained/equipped troops at the enemy and flatten cities hoping for a positive outcome. It’s just their culture.

Meirion X
Meirion X
1 month ago
Reply to  dan

Agreed Dan!

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago
Reply to  dan

The destruction Russia leaves after they attack an area is shocking. Everything blasted. The did the same to Aleppo. You cant win over a population by destroying everything they ever had and killing lots of the people they know and care about.
The population will only hate you for it.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago

I am going to ask a really obtuse question and I suspect it will be like kicking a wasp nest. NATO and many other countries have signalled their support for the Ukraine. Like may others I have been fascinated to see the upsweep in activity by NATO military aircraft. J Stars, Rivet Joint, Drones and P8’s all patrolling the Black Sea up to the Baltic. Like many I look at ADS-B and it gives a very impressive overview of our support and resolve. Except at Weekends when other than some Transports and some attending Air displays there is precisely zilch… Read more »

Neptune Missile
Neptune Missile
1 month ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

Or they ‘go dark’.