The Royal Air Force aircrew from RAF Waddington based 51 Squadron, are conducting integrated crew training flying on Exercise Red Flag from Nellis Air Base Nevada, United States. The aircrew have joined with The U.S. Air Force aircrew, to fly a RC 135 Rivet Joint intelligence gathering aircraft as part of the exercise. This is the first time that an integrated crew has flown on the exercise for several years and is one element of the newly expanded but long-established exercise. In addition to this integrated crew, other elements that are new for this year’s exercise are a vastly increased geographical area to challenge participants to overcome what United States Air Force planners are calling the ‘Tyranny of Distance’. This means that large multi engine aircraft are now fully integrated into the missions, in addition to the traditional combat air missions of previous exercises.
The 51 Royal Air Force Squadron detachment is led by Flight Lieutenant Wilkes, a navigator with the squadron. The 51 Squadron is based at RAF Waddington, at the hub of the RAF’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance fleet. The RAF RC 135 Rivet Joint Aircraft are fully integrated into the United States Air Force Rivet Joint Fleet flown by the United States Air Force 55th Wing based at Offutt Air Force Base Nebraska and are part of single cycle of upgrades to develop the aircraft. In addition to ensuring the aircraft of the RAF and United States Air Force are the same, the aircrew are trained to the same standard and are therefore qualified to operate each nation’s aircraft. For Exercise RED FLAG the United States Air Force Rivet Joint detachment commander is Major Marc ‘Dirty’ Ramos from the 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Offutt AFB.
During the exercise the Rivet Joint aircrew are providing intelligence that can be passed directly to the combat fast jets of the RAF, United States Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, United States Navy and US Marine Corps that are conducting the simulated combat missions. The intelligence gathered contributes to the understanding of the complex simulated ground-based air defence systems, as well as aggressor aircraft that are simulating a peer adversary, together with cyber and space-based threats that are being faced by the ‘Blue’ forces. RC-135W Rivet Joint employs multidiscipline Weapons System Officer (WSO) and Weapons System Operator (WSOp) specialists whose mission is to survey elements of the electromagnetic spectrum in order to derive intelligence for commanders. Rivet Joint has been deployed extensively for Operation Shader and on other operational taskings. It had been formally named Airseeker, but is almost universally known in service as the RC-135W Rivet Joint.
The Boeing RC-135 is a family of large reconnaissance aircraft built by Boeing and modified by a number of companies, including General Dynamics, Lockheed, LTV, E-Systems, and L3 Technologies, and used by the United States Air Force and Royal Air Force to support theater and national level intelligence consumers with near real-time on-scene collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities. Based on the C-135 Stratolifter airframe, various types of RC-135s have been in service since 1961. Unlike the C-135 and KC-135 which are recognized by Boeing as the Model 717, most of the current RC-135 fleet (with the exception of the RAF’s RC-135Ws) is internally designated as the Model 739 by the company. Many variants have been modified numerous times, resulting in a large variety of designations, configurations, and program names.