British surveillance aircraft are currently operating in the Baltic region.
Royal Air Force RC-135 and Sentinel surveillance aircraft have been observed operating over the Baltic nations near the Russian border.
The Open Source Intelligence Twitter account Intel Air & Sea is following the event, if you don’t follow them then I’d suggest you go do that now.
— Intel Air & Sea (@air_intel) February 10, 2021
Why have we reported a relatively common occurrence? While most of us know that these are routine flights and that both NATO and Russia operate aircraft for this purpose, we believe it’s important to remind people that this is routine in order to pre-empt any tabloid or social media outrage.
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 Sentinel do?
The soon to be retired Sentinel is an airborne battlefield and ground surveillance aircraft based on the Bombardier Global Express ultra long range business jet and serves a role similar to JSTARS with the RAF, the jet was adapted by Raytheon to meet the RAF’s requirements.
Sentinel operates in three modes: spotlight SAR, with 5-meter resolution for small-area surveillance of fixed targets; swath SAR, which provides large-area surveillance of fixed targets; and large-area surveillance of moving targets (including helicopters) travelling at a minimum of 10 kmph.
The system’s operating altitude is between 12,802 metres and 15,200 metres. From this height, its radar sensors are able to detect targets at a range of up to 300 kilometres (186.4 miles). Aside from battlefield scenarios, Sentinel can be used to monitor natural disasters, pollution, and smuggling activities.