The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has successfully carried out the first test flight of the RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, UK.
Converted by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems (L-3/IS) from a Boeing KC-135 tanker, the aircraft is the first of three RC-135s that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has acquired from the US Government for £650m, as part of the Airseeker programme.
The personnel from RAF's 51 Squadron have been operating the US Air Force (USAF) Rivet Joint aircraft and ground stations to familiarise themselves with the aircraft and its capability since 2011.
UK MOD Materiel (Air) chief air marshal Simon Bollom said the RC-135 initial test flight signifies the commencement of a new and potent air intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability in the RAF inventory.
"We have procured an aircraft with a proven track record which has been successfully operated by the United States Air Force, with RAF crews under co-manning arrangements, for a number of years," Bollom said.
UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "These highly specialised aircraft and their supporting ground systems, bought off-the-shelf, provide Britain with a first-class intelligence-gathering capability that is value for money and another key part of our ability to interoperate with the US."
In addition to gathering data and vital intelligence using advanced sensor technology, the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft is also capable of carrying out onboard analysis and distributing the information for exploitation by the ground assets through its high-tech communications suite.
The remaining two aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to RAF in the next few years.
Comprising three Rivet Joint aircraft and ground exploitation systems, the Airseeker capability joins the RAF's ISTAR force, which includes the Sentry, Shadow, Sentinel and the Reaper, and is scheduled to become fully operational by mid-2017.
Image: A Rivet Joint RC-135W aircraft in flight over RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, UK. Photo: Sergeant Si Pugsley RAF, Crown ©.