The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has taken delivery of the first RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft acquired from the US under the Airseeker project, at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, UK.
Delivered after successful completion of flight trials at a facility in Greenville, Texas, US earlier this year, the aircraft is scheduled to enter operational service with the Royal Air Force's (RAF) No. 51 Squadron in 2014.
Three RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft along with the associated ground systems were purchased by the MoD under a $1bn deal in March 2010, to help address the capability gap generated by the retirement of the RAF's Nimrod R1 fleet, the following year.
Defence Equipment and Support Air Support director air vice-marshal Peter Ewen said the delivery represents a significant milestone in the procurement pathway for the future Airseeker SIGINT capability for the national defence.
''A testament to the ongoing and highly effective UK/US co-operation in the procurement programme, support and RAF aircrew training, this first of three aircraft will form a vital component of the nation's future ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) capabilities,'' Ewen said.
Joint Forces Command Capability director air vice-marshal Phil Osborn said, ''We plan to have our Airseeker programme - comprising all three Rivet Joint aircraft with their highly skilled aircrew, ground crew and analysts - fully operational by mid-2017.''
The RAF Rivet Joint aircraft are modified variants of the former US Air Force's (USAF) KC-135R tankers, with refurbishment carried out by L-3 Communications in the US, at a per-unit cost of £180m, FlightGlobal reports.
The 51 Squadron has been training and operating alongside USAF personnel in preparation for the arrival of the aircraft since 2011.
The remaining two aircraft are scheduled to be delivered over the next four years.
Image: The Royal Air Force's first RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft arrives at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, UK. Photo: Senior Aircraftman Blake Carruthers, Crown copyright.