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Royal Air Force extends support for Rivet Joint fleet out to 2035

UK Rivet Joint fleet
Photo: Royal Air Force

After first announcing that the Royal Air Force’s RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft would remain in service ten years longer than initially planned, the UK defense ministry has now extended support agreements for the aircraft.

According to an announcement from October 26, the three Rivet Joint, also known as Airseeker, aircraft will benefit from an extension to the support arrangement with the US government in a deal worth £970 million. The agreement will continue to benefit from maintenance, spare parts, engineering support, technical data and access to capability updates.

Support is provided by the unique venture between the US Air Force and the UK defense ministry – known as the Rivet Joint Cooperative Programme – which was due to expire in 2025 and will now continue until the UK out of service date in 2035.

The UK first announced its intention to extend the out of service date for the Airseeker platform from 2025 to 2035 in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

RC-135W allows the Royal Air Force to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. The mission crew can then forward gathered information in a variety of formats via an extensive communications suite.

The service declared full operational capability for the Rivet Joint in 2018, after receiving the first airframe in 2013 and flying the first operational sortie in 2014.

Photo: Royal Air Force

“Extending Airseeker support reaffirms the continuing cooperation between the UK and US in this important defense capability area. I am delighted that Airseeker will continue to receive world-class sustainment and follow-on development support right up until the current UK out of service date in 2035,” Sir Simon Bollom, CEO of Defence Equipment & Support, said.

Based at RAF Waddington by 51 Squadron, the Rivet Joint aircraft are part of the UK’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) force.