UK and US extend Airseeker support until 2035

The UK and US have moved to extend an existing support deal for the RC-135W Rivet Joint (Airseeker) electronic surveillance aircraft until 2035 in a deal worth £970m, according to an October 26 release from the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD).

Support to the aircraft type is provided by a combined venture between the US Air Force and the UK MOD known as the Rivet Joint Cooperative Programme, which had been due to expire in 2025 before the announced extension. The agreement will continue to benefit from maintenance, spare parts, engineering support, technical data and access to capability updates.

RC-135W Rivet Joint Airseeker
The RC-135W Rivet Joint is a key element of the RAF’s ISTAR capability. MOD Crown Copyright

UK Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said: “The Rivet Joint Cooperative Programme is a fantastic example of the UK/US special relationship and the support for our Airseeker fleet has been extended for a further decade.

“With a commitment to invest almost £1 billion, this agreement will ensure that we, and our allies, can benefit from the aircraft’s impressive surveillance capability for years to come.”

To ensure the aircraft continue to receive support until 2035, the existing Memorandum of Understanding with the US was extended following negotiations between the US Department of Defense (DoD) and the UK MOD. Under the new MOU, the MOD have committed to investing £970m in the programme over the next 14 years.

When on operations, Airseeker works by using its sensors to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. The mission crew can then forward gathered information in a variety of formats to a wide range of consumers via Rivet Joint's communications suite.

The aircraft are operated out of RAF Waddington by the Royal Air Force's (RAF's) No 51 Squadron as part of the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Force.