A longtime US Air Force reconnaissance asset,the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft,a reconfigured Boeing C-135,continues its intelligence collecting legacy in Afghanistan.A new photo of the aircraft being refueled in Afghan skies was tweeted by the Department of Defense on 10 January 2016 and a video has been released as well.A KC-135 Stratotanker of the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron is shown refueling the Rivet Joint on 3 January 2016.The squadron is actively engaged in tactical air refueling operations which extend kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities,the Air Force said.*
According to Air Force magazine,the RC-135 is perhaps the most potent airborne intelligence-gathering platform in history.It conducts ELINT and COMINT intercept operations out to 150 miles.Later models of the plane are characterised by the variety and complexity of electronic suites,sporting additional antennae,radar platforms,bulges,stings and other less-than-aerodynamic shapes to accommodate the exotic electronics.*
From Vietnam to Operations Urgent Fury in Grenada and Desert Storm in Iraq,on to Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan,and now Operation Freedom's Sentinel,the US roles in NATO'S Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan,the plane's onboard sensor suite has detected,identified and geolocated signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum,fowarding them to a wide range of consumers via Rivet Joint's extensive communications suite,the Air Force continues,supporting both theatre and national level consumers with near real time in country intelligence collection,analysis and dissemination capabilities.*
The 17 Rivet Joint aircraft,operated by 55th Wing,are based at Offut Air Force Base,Nebraska by crewed by up to 32 Airmen,including the flight crew of up to 3 pilots and 2 navigators;the mission flight crew of a minimum of 3 electronic warfare officers;14 intelligence operators and 4 inflight/airborne maintenance technicians.
Great Britain's Royal Air Force also flies the RC-135 Rivet Joint.*