An image leaked on the internet shows what appears to be the first RC-135 Rivet Joint destined for the U.K. Royal Air Force.
The RAF has three RC-135s on order, making the U.K. the first export customer for the RC-135V/W Sigint jets. The aircraft have been converted from a trio of 1964-vintage Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers.
The three aircraft were ordered by the Ministry of Defence in March 2010 and the first aircraft is expected to roll out early next year. Once in service, the aircraft will be operated by No. 51 Sqn which famously operated the Nimrod R1, an aircraft which for many years the RAF refused to disclose as being in operation because of the type’s intelligence gathering capabilities. In preparation for the Rivet Joint’s arrival, 51 Sqn crews have been flying missions with the 55th Wing to gain experience on the type. It is understood that the aircraft will be christened Airseeker in RAF service.
Sharp-eyed readers of this blog will notice the aircraft distinctly lacks an air-to-air refuelling probe and given the RAF has not ordered a boom for its Voyager tankers, the new Airseekers will end up being dependent on USAF or tankers from other nations for refuelling.