NATO

RAF Rivet Joint Aircraft Bolsters NATO Defence On 'Complex' European Exercise

The intelligence gathering aircraft from RAF Waddington joined US-led exercise scenarios in the Baltic Sea region.

An intelligence-gathering aircraft based at RAF Waddington has joined the US Air Force, US Navy and Royal Netherlands Air Force to test NATO's coordination from every angle of the battlefield.

The RC-135W Rivet Joint from 51 Squadron, part of the Royal Air Force's Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance Force, took part in the Baltic Sea exercise.

Two exercise scenarios gave the militaries a chance to show a joined-up command and control capability across multiple domains. 

The exercise required the joint force to come together on and above the Baltic Sea to generate firepower against potential future adversaries and defend the infrastructure which enables it to mobilise.

General Jeff Harrigian, the US Air Forces in Europe Commander, said the "complex" scenarios allowed the international forces to "identify areas where our warfighters need assistance from the Air and Space Forces' Chief Architect's Office".

The region has seen tensions between Russia and the West manifest in recent years, relations hitting post-Cold War lows after the 2014 Russian annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Last summer, Russian military jets practised strikes against marine targets in the Baltic Sea in a training mission running parallel with NATO forces on a Baltic Operations exercise.

A NATO air policing mission has also seen RAF Typhoon fighters intercept Russian aircraft over the Baltic coast.

The Rivet Joint recently has been with 51 Squadron since 2013 and recently received an upgraded flight deck (Picture: RAF).

Russia has repeatedly described NATO deployments near its borders as a security threat.

The RAF's 51 Squadron was formed in 1916, but was developed into a specialist in collecting electronic intelligence in the 1960s.

In 2013, the unit received the Rivet Joint – a dedicated intelligence-gathering aircraft capable of absorbing electronic emissions from radar and other communication systems, hitting heights up to 39,000 feet.

Last year, the aircraft received an upgrade to its flight deck and other technical aspects to make operations smoother for the crew.

Group Captain Jim Beldon MBE, the Deputy Commander of the RAF's ISTAR Force, said: "It is very important to be able to integrate an RAF RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft into this exercise, which is aimed at testing and developing the Advanced Battle Management System.

"This system will merge information from a variety of sources, which enables commanders to react rapidly and decisively in dynamic operational situations.

"The RAF's participation reaffirms the UK's relationships with the United States Air Force and our NATO allies," he added.

Cover image: RAF.