L3 has delivered the third and final RC-135V/W Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft to the Royal Air Force, a milestone marking the completion of the Airseeker programme.

The three aircraft form the backbone of the UK’s Airseeker capability, providing new and collaborative intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance resources in support of global security missions. Upon touchdown at Royal Air Force Waddington, the aircraft was formally transferred to the RAF, completing the hardware deliveries under the Foreign Military Sales contract valued at approximately $1 billion.

Taken together, the UK and USAF fleet form a combined fleet of 20 aircraft, and L3 say they will perform future baseline upgrades and periodic depot maintenance on the fleet. L3 has also delivered a station to support ground operations and training systems to train both operators and maintainers.

“This groundbreaking agreement gives the UK access to future innovative technology and presents a very high level of interoperability with major coalition partners,” said Christopher E. Kubasik, L3’s President and Chief Operating Officer. “This partnership has provided our U.K. allies with an intelligence-gathering platform that supports near-real-time on-scene collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities.”

“Analysts have hailed this U.K./U.S. program as the highest level of intelligence cooperation between the two countries since World War II,” said Mark Von Schwarz, L3’s Senior Vice President and President of its Aerospace Systems business segment. “The U.S. and the U.K. will be closely involved in future maturation of the Rivet Joint weapon system for at least the next 25 years.”

Under the agreement, the UK purchased three Rivet Joint aircraft for conversion by L3 from KC-135R tankers to the RC-135W configuration. The first two aircraft were delivered in 2013 and 2015, respectively, and upon gaining their airworthiness releases.

“The cooperation between L3, the USAF and the U.K. MOD throughout the Airseeker program has been the key to delivering aircraft early and fielding the capability ahead of the original schedule,” said Bill Chrispin, the Airseeker Delivery Manager.


    • All three have been delivered painted in a fresh and rather handsome paint scheme. If you are referring to why they are not painted in a low-vis hemp/grey scheme like other RAF aircraft the reason is the cost of qualifying an alternative paint scheme.

      The RC-135W is packed with electronics that are heat sensitive, the type has a high gloss white scheme to help keep the interior cool. To paint it differently than US examples is more cost effective as it doesn’t require qualification of an alternative.

      That the scheme is similar to the old RAF Transport command scheme is a bonus in my and other enthusiasts books.

  1. Can we take this peice of rubbish to the scrap yard and keep all our Sentinel aircraft. Another peice of rubbish from our friends from over the pond.

      • Making ridiculous comments with no real understanding between two completely different aerial platforms by the sound of it!!!!!

      • Any relation to Dr Liam Fox??? He was about as knowledgeable and competent as Secretary of State for Defense!!! 😂

    • Christopher. Are you even aware the Sentinel and Airseeker have totally different roles?? Doesn’t sound like it.

      • My point is that we are getting rid of capabilities such as Sentinel when they have served us well. The Aiseeker is an old airframe. We should not be buying from America we should be developing our own solutions. There is no reason why we couldn’t have bought some Airbus airframes and put our own surveillance equipment in them. British equipment and British jobs.

        • Your not listening.Christopher. If we started from scratch we would wend up with another Nimrod fiasco on our hands Four billion pounds spent by Labour over 15 tears to end up with an old , old aeroplane that didn’t work. Airseeker is a bargain.

          • geoffrey I agree with you Nimrod was a fiasco and on the cost effectiveness of Airseeker. But the issues with Nimrod was the old airframe and the ‘one off’ builds of each aircraft which hampered rebuilding. As far as I am aware all the clever gadgets on board all worked very well.

            So yes 3 Airseekers on the back of 17 US ones was a bargain.

            But I do think we need a different thought process for the Poseidon now given Boeing’s threats to UK jobs. As Fallon and the PM said this is not the action one expects of a long term supplier to a major customer. So a rethink along the lines of the LM offer of assorted (British) clever gadgets fitted into an A320. Or better still a Bombardier C100 and build a fleet with Canada.

        • The Airseekeer is an old airframe but that doesn’t mean they are not in good condition.

          The USAF has completely different maintenance philosophy to the RAF that keeps their old large aircraft in an as new condition.

          The RAF asks the supplier to provide a total life for the parts fitted to a type, they will keep those parts on the aircraft until they expire. The RAF also has a fixed OSD for their types meaning we expect them to wear out over time.

          The USAF is different, they ask that all the parts be replaced or refurbished on an airframe to an as new condition with a five year life, when a part reaches that age it is pulled off regardless of its actual condition and replaced with a new or refurbished to as new part. They also don’t have a fixed OSD. Every few years the aircraft is pulled into a depot and gutted down to bare metal, any skin or structures that are fatigued are replaced then put back together with fresh parts making the aircraft that rolls back out effectively a new aircraft.

          Now that is a very expensive way of going about things as it involves binning or refurbishing parts that are perfectly OK and replacing skin and major structures but it means their fleet of KC135 are in a remarkably good condition. The UK RC135W are built off the last KC135 to come off the Boeing line and in effect as new.

  2. The UK has got a great deal on the RC135.

    Regards the paint work, it would have cost a great deal to change it given the sensitivity of the of the electronic devices onboard and the testing already done by the US.

    • Probably a bit simplistic this Ben, but the Rivet Joint is for intelligence gathering and surveillance globally, feeding the likes of GCHQ and the Sentinel is essentially about battlefield reconnaissance and management. Inevitably there is some overlap in capability.

  3. 51 Squadron are one of the UK’s Gold plated assets, along with its associated ground analysis assets.
    People moaning know nothing of the aircraft’s capabilities.
    I suggest they read up on UKUSA agreement and the Hand in Glove relationship between the GCHQ and NSA.

  4. Well said Daniele = too many armchair warriors who seem to nothing about much really but always happy to post a foolish or even ignorant comment

  5. Chris….I applaud your sentiments and in a ideal world? Realistically though, I don’t think we can embark upon any project these days of this size and I’m not sure we should. When a country only needs 3 or 5 highly specialized aircraft the time and cost involved is just too much. Also in this case Airseeker is part of a much larger intelligence project and it makes sense for the systems to be compatible.

    • Bingo. That is the key – Compatible and connected. Like all the 5 eyes countries intelligence assets.
      Moving on, job done with our elint/sigint airborne assets.
      I agree with Christopher though re the Sentinel. Such an in demand asset should be assured, not cut.

    • geoffrey – I was agreeing with you on Airseeker. Totally the right decision and the ex USAF aircraft are totally acceptable.
      I was however making the point about new Poseidon Maritime aircraft related to how Boeing are now being very aggressive towards Bombardier and in which NI jobs are just (to them) collateral damage in their efforts to eliminate competition. Well I say ‘competition’ but Boeing don’t actually make a CS100 equivalent that was sold to Delta and why Bombardier exploited the hole in the market below 737 / A320.
      I just agree with Fallon and May that this is not the action of a commercial partner who are forgetting that we are the customer and they the supplier. I am not sure of too many suppliers who get away with damaging their customers business / livelihoods and remain suppliers do you?
      If Boeing are not given a slap now they will just carry on like the playground bullies they have become supported by pork barrel US politics, free US taxpayer research courtesy of NASA and endless back door funding through fat military contracts. As the WTO commented

      I just think that maybe we should look after our own even if it costs more money. Especially if the policies of Boeing are now becoming unacceptable. Because when you lose a key capability it never comes back. Canada is quite possibly now more open to UK ideas having supported them against the US and Boeing and a joint run of, say, 20 Maritime aircraft using the Bombardier commercial airframe with British ‘clever gadgets’ and knowhow learned from Poseidon by RAF crews is perfectly viable for the two countries. And it sends a very clear political and national message ….

      • Chris. No argument from me on Boeing or one or two other companies who seem to be able to dictate terms but that’s for Michael Fallon to sort out’ I like your idea re Bombardier if the kit is there, and given our promoting the Type 26, who knows? Will our political masters see the obvious?

        • geoffrey – the saga continues. US administrators have now ADDED a further 80% duties on Bombardier aircraft imported into the USA. Duties are now 300%. That is not in any way relative to any alleged subsidies and is just the big boy down south attacking the smaller boy up north with a sidekick to the UK in the process to look after their only commercial aircraft manufacturer.


          Interestingly delta have said it won’t make any difference to their order as Boeing don’t make a relevant aircraft. And are now saying that duties cannot be retrospectively levied after a price and contract are agreed.

          Time for Mr Fallon to put on a hard hat and tell Boeing that until this is all resolved amicably the £2.3 Bn Poseidon order is ‘on hold pending cancellation’. Or we could levy 300% duties on all Boeing 737s …..


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