It was revealed today the RAF has deployed Rivet Joint to provide intelligence and analysis of the situation in Northern Iraq. Gordon Jones looks at the news for GAR.

© Gordon Jones -

RC-135W ZZ664 landing at RAF Waddington © Gordon Jones –

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed the deployment on his visit to RAF Akrotiri saying:

“I can confirm today we have deployed Rivet Joint, our very latest surveillance aircraft, the successor to Nimrod, to give us a much better picture, more intelligence and analysis of what is happening on the ground which will help the Iraqi government, the Kurdish forces and the Americans.”

As I previously reported 51 Squadron RAF first flew the RAF’s first RC-135 on 23 May 2014 and have been working towards achieving Initial Operational Capability (IOC), which was expected to take five months so it was a surprise when ZZ664 left its base at RAF Waddington on 14 July 2014, well ahead of this date. It is believed the aircraft has been actively flying missions for ‘weeks’.

Gareth Stringer ©

Another view of Rivet Joint at RAF Waddington Gareth Stringer ©

As part of the flight testing of ZZ664 on 26 June 2014 the RAF successfully carried out air-to-air refuelling with a KC-135 tanker of the USAF’s 100th ARW, which is based at RAF Mildenhall. This was a vital milestone for the RAF as the aircraft is limited to taking off with a fuel load which would only allow a sortie to last around seven hours. The USAF uses its KC-135 tankers to top up the RC-135 in flight allowing for longer sorties with missions of 12 hours not being unusual. The Rivet Joint is only configured to use the boom style of refuelling and the RAF’s only tanker, the Voyager, uses the probe and drogue method meaning the two are incompatible. If the RAF needs to refuel in flight it will need support of a nation with a boom configured tanker, most likely the USAF.

The length of the sortie will depend on the transit time to the mission area and the time needed to be ‘on station’ for. The most probable base for the RC-135 in the region would be Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar where it could be supported by the USAF, which has a detachment of RC-135s based there. Al Udeid also has a detachment of KC-135s which could provide AAR to the RAF.

The deployment will be welcomed by both the RAF and the USAF. The RAF is keen to put the problematic purchase of the type behind it and to get on with making use of a very capable aircraft, and the USAF’s 55th Wing will be happy to share some of the load with the RAF. The 55th Wing have seen a higher than normal number of aircraft being deployed overseas this year driven by developments in both the Balkans and Iraq. The pace of operations has been so high than one particular air frame spent less than four weeks at its home base at Offutt Air Base before again being deployed back to the Middle East again.