British surveillance aircraft ignores Russian warnings

Russia reportedly warned Britain against a planned surveillance flight near Russian territory, saying its air force had been given orders to prevent an intrusion. The flight went ahead as planned.

This comes not long after an incident earlier this week in which a Royal Air Force RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft was flying in international airspace over the Norwegian and Barents Seas when a Russian MiG-31 jet carried out the “unsafe close pass” on Monday, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Moscow had also claimed the aircraft was forced out of Russian territory by the crew of the Russian fighter jet, TASS also reported. A British spokesperson denied this version of events, instead accusing the Russian aircraft of an “unsafe” maneuver.

“A Russian MIG-31 jet conducted an unsafe close pass of an RAF RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft as it carried out a routine operation in international airspace over the Norwegian and Barents Seas on Monday 15 August,” the spokesperson said.

“The UK aircraft was in communication with Russian civilian air traffic control and its crew operated in a safe and professional manner.”

It should be noted that the aircraft was even visible on FlightRadar24, hardly a stealth mission.

Despite the above, it happened anyway.

A Royal Air Force RC-135 ‘Rivet Joint’ intelligence gathering aircraft has been operating in international airspace near the headquarters of the Russian Northern Fleet.

The aircraft was refueled over the North Sea by a U.S. Air Force KC-135 out of RAF Mildenhall before flying over Norway and then down to the Kola Peninsula, just off Murmansk.

This isn’t a new occurrence. In fact, these flights are pretty routine. The UK has long been gathering intelligence about Russian forces since long before the invasion of Ukraine, and it should be noted that these flights are designed to be visible so that the public and Russia know they’re happening.

If it were a secret, I would not know. Also, for those remarking ‘this isn’t new’, that’s right, but people only know this often happens because it is reported often. Why are we reporting this? Well, aside from the above, it’s essential for people to see that aircraft like this are in near-constant use rather than gathering dust in a hangar.

It should be noted, by the way, that the aircraft is in international airspace. The West does this to Russia, and Russia does this to the West.

FILE PHOTO: RAF RC-135 touches down.

What does the RC-135W do?

According to the Royal Air Force website, the RC-135W Rivet Joint is a dedicated ‘signals intelligence’ electronic surveillance aircraft that can be employed in all theatres on strategic and tactical missions. Its sensors ‘soak up’ electronic emissions from communications, radar, and other systems.

“RC-135W Rivet Joint employs multidiscipline Weapons System Officer (WSO) and Weapons System Operator (WSOp) specialists whose mission is to survey elements of the electromagnetic spectrum in order to derive intelligence for commanders.”

The Royal Air Force say that Rivet Joint has been deployed extensively for Operation Shader and on other operational taskings. It had been formally named Airseeker but is almost universally known in service as the RC-135W Rivet Joint.

The UK operates three of these aircraft.