The United Kingdom has declared its fleet of three L3 Technologies RC-135V/W Airseeker (Rivet Joint) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft to be fully operational following the completion of deliveries earlier this year.
The declaration of full operating capability (FOC) for the fleet that is based out of Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington in Lincolnshire was made on 15 December, about two-and-a-half months after it was announced at the end of September that the third and final aircraft had arrived in the United Kingdom (this announcement came some months after the delivery was made).
Under the Airseeker agreement that the United Kingdom signed in 2010, the United Kingdom purchased three Rivet Joint aircraft for conversion by L3 from KC-135R tankers to the RC-135W configuration. Although sovereign UK aircraft, the Airseekers are managed in service by a joint US/UK team based at L3 Technologies’ Greenville site in Texas. Taken together, the UK and US Air Force (USAF) aircraft form a combined fleet of 20 aircraft.
The United Kingdom’s three Airseekers have recapitalised an airborne signals intelligence (SIGINT) capability that was lost when the last two Nimrod R1 aircraft were withdrawn from service in June 2011 (a third R1 had already been put into storage in late 2009). Sources familiar with the programme have said the new platforms deliver around 10 times the capability provided by the Nimrod fleet in 2001.
Each RC-135V/W has a full crew complement of 28, although the extent to which the SIGINT gathered by the platform is processed on board, as opposed to reaching back to the United Kingdom, can be scaled according to mission requirements.
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