RAF Rivet Joint

The UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF) RC-135V/W Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft has successfully completed its first in-flight refuelling mission.

In a recently released image by the US Air Force (USAF), the ZZ664 aircraft is seen receiving fuel from KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing, based at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, UK.

While the USAF claims it to be the aircraft’s first aerial refuelling sortie, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has confirmed to IHS Jane’s that the RAF RC-135W Rivet Joint crews are now fully qualified to conduct ‘boom-and-receptacle’ air-to-air refuelling (AAR) missions.

USAF and RAF have agreed to allow the former’s boom-equipped tankers to refuel the latter’s Rivet Joint fleet, as the British Airbus A330 Voyager tankers are equipped only with hose-and-drogue refuelling systems, Flightglobal reported.

The UK MoD acquired three RC-135s from the US for £650m in March 2010, under the Airseeker programme to replace its Nimrod R1 signals intelligence fleet.

The Rivet Joint aircraft are modified variants of the former USAF KC-135R tankers. The modifications were undertaken by L-3 Communications.

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Primarily designed to perform air intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions, the aircraft can also conduct onboard analysis and share the information with ground forces.

The RAF received the first aircraft in November 2013, while delivery of the remaining two planes is scheduled to take place in the next few years.

Image: The UK’s first RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft arrives at RAF Waddington in UK. Photo: courtesy of Senior Aircraftman Blake Carruthers, © Crown copyright.

Defence Technology