RC-135W Rivet Joint is a dedicated 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.
In June 2011, 51 Sqn flew the final BAe Nimrod R.Mk 1 sortie of its 37-year association with the type. Plans were under way for the aircraft's replacement under a project known as Airseeker, which had begun the previous March. It envisaged the acquisition of three RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft for delivery from 2013. The machines were to be converted from USAF KC-135R airframes and L-3 Communications in Greenville, Texas was chosen to perform the work as the USAF's experienced Rivet Joint contractor. The work began in March 2011.
On November 12, 2013, No. 51 Sqn took delivery of the UK's first Rivet Joint, operating its maiden operational sortie on May 23, 2014. The second aircraft arrived in August 2015 and the third on June 8, 2017.For the purposes of sensor and system upgrades, the trio are considered an extension of the USAF Rivet Joint fleet, ensuring they remain at the cutting edge of capability.
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.