Electronic Weapons: Rivet Joint Joins The RAF

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October 8, 2008:The United States is selling Britain three RC-135 "Rivet Joint" electronic warfare aircraft. Each will cost about $350 million. These will be built by converting three late model KC-135 tankers.

Costing about $4,000 an hour to operate, only 15 of them are in service with the U.S. One of these aircraft recently set a record, spending over 50,000 hours in the air since it entered service in 1962. The main reason for all those hours in the air is that RC-135s are very good at what they do, and have been much in demand of late. The RC-135 is a flying vacuum cleaner of electronic signals. Built on the same airframe as the KC-135 tanker and Boeing 707 airliner, it carries two dozen people to operate all the electronic gear. Exactly what kind of electronic signals the RC-135 can pick up is classified, but apparently includes any electronic device the enemy in Iraq or Afghanistan is using.

The RC-135s have proved particularly useful over Iraq and Afghanistan. There, the RC-135scollect a wide variety of electronic signals in an area, and analyze them quickly. The analysis effort is looking for patterns. The bomb teams leave signs electronically (cell phones, walkie-talkies) or visually (images captured on surveillance cameras). Using the right math and analytical tools (software and computers) and you can quickly discover where the bad guys are coming from, and have the ground troops promptly raid the location.

This kind of work is popular with the RC-135 crews, because they are getting a chance to do, in a combat zone, what they have long trained for. Moreover, it's relatively risk free, as the aircraft fly beyond the range of machine-gun or should fired anti-aircraft missiles. In addition, the most productive work is done during night missions, when the bad guys can't even see the RC-135's high above.

Britain has found such aircraft very useful in Afghanistan, where their own electronic monitoring planes, based on their Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft. But the Nimrods are old and have developed problems that make them dangerous to fly. Britain feels that the best solution is to buy copies of the best available electronic warfare aircraft.

 


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