Two British RC-135 electronic surveillance aircraft, rather than the usual one, are operating over the Black Sea near Ukraine.
The UK has been increasing the frequency of such flights in order to gather intelligence but it’s usually only one British aircraft at a time with US aircraft also present.
As we need to post this each time, here’s the usual disclaimer. This isn’t a new occurrence, in fact it is quite routine. The UK has long been gathering intelligence about Russian forces since long before the invasion of Ukraine and it should be noted that these flights are designed to be visible so that the public and Russia know they’re happening.
If it was a secret, I would not know. Also, for those remarking ‘this isn’t new’, that’s right but people only know this happens often because it is reported often.
British surveillance aircraft being over the area isn’t unusual but we are seeing a significant increase in the frequency of the flights over the last few months for obvious reasons, it’s rare for two British aircraft to be up at the one time as the UK only has three of this aircraft type.
What does the RC-135W do?
According to the Royal Air Force website, the RC-135W Rivet Joint is a dedicated electronic surveillance aircraft that can be employed in all theatres on strategic and tactical missions. Its sensors ‘soak up’ electronic emissions from communications, radar and other systems.
“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.”
The Royal Air Force say that 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 UK operates three of these aircraft.