Rivet Joints for RAF tasks

#1
USAF Planes To Help U.K. Fill SIGINT Gap
By Andrew Chuter, Defense News
Published: 22 Mar 2010 16:15

LONDON - Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) is to operate three RC-135V/W Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft supplied under a Foreign Military Sales deal with the U.S. government, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced today.

The Boeing 707 airframes destined for Britain will be drawn from the U.S. Air Force tanker fleet.

L-3 Communications, which handles airframe and mission-system modifications on USAF Rivet Joints, will modify, refurbish and install mission systems on the British aircraft.

The first plane is to be delivered in 2014, three years after the RAF plans to withdraw the last two of its Nimrod R1 signals aircraft. A third R1 retired last year.

The gap in Britain's electronic intelligence capabilities is likely to be filled by U.S. Rivet Joints tasked and partly crewed by the RAF, sources said.

That could be a controversial move; for at least three years, the British will forgo control of what the defense secretary said in a statement March 22 to Parliament was a "vital capability."

An MoD spokesman said that between "2011 and 2014, the U.K. will enter into a partnering arrangement with the U.S. that will safeguard U.K. personnel core competencies."

The spokesman declined to provide more details.

The U.K. will have "full sovereignty of the aircraft when received in 2014," the spokesman said.

The spokesman said there were no details available on program costs; initial contracts will be placed in June.

The cost of buying the Rivet Joint planes, installing ground terminal gear, training crews and buying other equipment was estimated in late 2008 at slightly more than $1 billion, according to the announcement of Britain's formal interest by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

A letter of offer and acceptance on what is known here as "Project Helix" was signed by the British on March 19.

Britain will be the only non-U.S. operator of the highly sensitive Rivet Joint, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said.

He said Rivet Joint was the most cost-effective and the only viable option that meets British military requirements, beating out proposals to develop a new mission system for the R1 airframe or a modified Nimrod MRA4 airframe.

In 2007, L-3 was awarded an assessment phase deal for Helix, which was then envisaged as a mission systems update of the R1.

The deal to buy the USAF aircraft was one of a number of announcements made by the U.K. government March 22 ahead of the Labour administration calling a general election in the next few days. The most notable was the U.K. arm of General Dynamics winning a major order to develop a family of armored fighting vehicles for the British Army.

Further announcements are expected later this week, including an assessment phase deal with BAE Systems to build a new generation of frigates as part of the Future Surface Combatant program.

The decision to replace the R1s comes just days before the aircraft's sister machine, the Nimrod MR2, is withdrawn from RAF service as a maritime reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering aircraft. The move will leave Britain short of maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine capability until the MRA4 becomes operational in 2012.

The first of nine MRA4s planned for delivery was last week handed over to the RAF for support training activities. The aircraft's entry into service is being delayed until 2012 to help save money at the cash-strapped MoD.
Those of us who might exhibit anxiety over the SigInt gap are "likely" to be "partly" comforted by the highlighted sentence. Tasking will of course be subject to availability.

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