British defence minister Ben Wallace has confirmed that on Sep. 29 a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 (NATO reporting name: Flanker) fighter jet “released a missile” near a British RC-135 surveillance aircraft in international airspace over the Black Sea.
As reported by UK Defence Journal, Wallace told parliament Britain had previously suspended patrols following the incident and expressed concerns to Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Russia, astonishingly, said it was a “technical malfunction”, and Wallace said Britain has now resumed patrols. However, the patrols now have fighter aircraft escorts.
“I would also like to share with the house details of a recent incident which occurred in international airspace over the Black Sea. On the 29th of September, an unarmed RAF RC 135 Rivet Joint ISTAR aircraft on routine patrol over the Black Sea was interacted with by two Russian armed Su-27 fighter aircraft.
“It is not unusual for aircraft to be shadowed, and this day was no different. During that interaction, however, it transpired that one of the Su-27 aircraft released a missile in the vicinity of the RAF Rivet Joint beyond visual range, the total time of the interaction between the Russian aircraft and the rivet joint was approximately 90 minutes, the patrol completed, and the aircraft returned to its base.
“In light of this potentially dangerous engagement. I’ve communicated my concerns directly to my Russian counterpart, Defence Minister Shoigu and the Chief of Defence Staff in Moscow, and has done so my colleague, the Chief of Defence Staff, has also communicated his concerns. In my letter, I made clear that the aircraft was unarmed in international airspace and following a pre-notified flight path. I felt it was prudent to suspend these patrols until a response was received by the Russian state.
“The reply by the Russian Ministry of Defence on the 10th of October stated that they have conducted an investigation into the circumstances of the incident and say it was a technical malfunction of the Su-27 fighter. They also acknowledged that the incident took place in international airspace.
“The Ministry of Defence has shared this information with allies, and after consultation, I have restarted routine patrols, but this time escorted by fighter aircraft. Everything we do is considered and calibrated with regard to the ongoing conflict in the region and in accordance with international law. We welcome Russia’s acknowledgement this was international airspace, and the UK has conducted regular sorties of the RAF Rivet Joint in international airspace over the Black Sea since 2019. And we will continue to do so. For security reasons, I will not provide further commentary on the detail of these operations. But I want to assure the House that this incident will not prevent the United Kingdom’s support for Ukraine and resistance to Russia’s illegal invasion. The UK government’s position remains unchanged.”
‘We now know why the Royal Air Force, earlier this week, provided one of its RC-135 surveillance aircraft an escort of two Typhoons over the Black Sea as the type monitored Russian forces in occupied Ukraine,’ UK Defence Journal reports.
The 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.
The 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.
According to the RAF site, 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 Nov. 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 Jun. 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.
Photo credit: Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, UK via Wikipedia and Sukhoi
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