Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s speech at the RUSI Air Power conference today is expected to announce that the UK will be deploying an additional RC-135 Rivet Joint in the fight against ISIL.

It has been claimed by the media that the RAF now has more intelligence aircraft tracking ISIL militants than were deployed against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The UK’s first Rivet Joint lands at RAF Waddington
The UK’s first Rivet Joint lands at RAF Waddington

The Defence Secretary is expected to say in his speech today that the UK is fighting “a new Battle of Britain”. The RC-135 Rivet Joint can intercept phone calls and text messages for analysis, and the intelligence used to inform airstrikes. It should be noted that the UK is providing around 30% of the aerial intelligence gathering in the international coalition fighting ISIL.

The United Kingdom had purchased three RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft from the United States in a deal worth around £630 million. The aircraft join 51 Squadron at RAF Waddington along with the RAF’s other ISTAR assets, like the Sentry and Sentinel.

The RC-135W signals intelligence aircraft is fitted with an on-board sensor suite that allows the aircraft to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. The information can then be distributed in a variety of formats to a wide range of platforms through Rivet Joint’s extensive communications suite.

British crews had already achieved more than 32,000 flying hours and 1,800 sorties as part of the USAF’s 55th Reconnaissance Wing, in preparation for the RAF operating the type.

A programme of continual upgrades has kept the American RC-135 fleet modern and three British aircraft will continue to benefit from the upgrade programme. British Rivet Joints will operate as part of a joint pool with the USAF and as a result, will be upgraded and maintained to the same standard as the American aircraft.


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