There are currently a significant number of British and American surveillance aircraft in the air over and around Ukraine.
One British UK RC-135W Rivet Joint, one American RC-135W Rivet Joint, one Global Hawk drone and a NATO E-3 AWACS aircraft are currently in the air.
Four surveillance aircraft currently over/near to 🇺🇦#Ukraine:
🇺🇲 United States Air Force RQ-4
🇺🇲 United States Air Force RC-135
🇬🇧 Royal Air Force RC-135
🇱🇺 NATO E-3 AWACS pic.twitter.com/A12vR1DHCn
— George Allison (@geoallison) February 23, 2022
This comes after America joined Britain on Tuesday in accusing Russia of invading Ukraine with tanks spotted rolling into the east of the country. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced an extra package of military support to Ukraine, including lethal aid, in the face of Russia’s “threatening behaviour”.
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 days for obvious reasons.
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.
What does the E-3 do?
According to the U.S. Air Force, the E-3 Sentry is an airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, aircraft with an integrated command and control battle management, or C2BM, surveillance, target detection, and tracking platform.
The aircraft provides an accurate, real-time picture of the battlespace to the Joint Air Operations Center.
“AWACS provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity, command and control of an area of responsibility, battle management of theatre forces, all-altitude and all-weather surveillance of the battlespace, and early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied, and coalition operations.”
What does the Global Hawk do?
According to Northrop Grumman, the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft is “the premier provider of persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information”. Able to fly at high altitudes for greater than 30 hours, Global Hawk is designed to gather near-real-time, high-resolution imagery of large areas of land in all types of weather – day or night.
The U.S. Air Force add here that the RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft with an integrated sensor suite that provides global all-weather, day or night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. Global Hawk’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations.
The Global Hawk provides persistent near-real-time coverage using imagery intelligence (IMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT) and moving target indicator (MTI) sensors.