Delivery of a new SIGINT aircraft for the Royal Air Force has been postponed. The UK’s Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) has not yet reviewed the safety case. The Airseeker (the RAF’s name for the U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint system) is the latest airframe that could be delayed by the MAA’s detailed scrutiny, which British contractors have privately called overzealous.
The UK’s Secretary of Defense, Bob Ainsworth, confirmed on March 22 that the Royal Air Force would receive three Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft to provide its signals intelligence (Sigint) gathering capability, the final agreement having been reached on March 19. The announcement brought to an end any lingering speculation concerning the immediate future of RAF Sigint.
More than a year after U.S. defense officials offered three RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft as a replacement for the same number of Royal Air Force BAE Nimrod R1 signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft, the UK Ministry of Defence has not made a decision.
The UK Royal Air Force flies three Nimrod R.1 versions that are dedicated to SIGINT (signals intelligence). They were converted from MR.2 maritime patrol aircraft, and their sensors have been upgraded regularly to monitor emerging new threats and signals. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) developed a plan for a complete replacement of the aircraft’s SIGINT suite, Project Helix, and chose L-3 Communications UK to provide it.