A RC-135 Rivet Joint flies over Afghanistan on Jan. 9. Britain has signed a nearly $1 billion deal with the U.S. government to support and update the threeRivet Joints due to be supplied to the Royal Air Force as part of a 2010 sales agreement. (Master Sgt. Scott Wagers / U.S. Air Force)
8 Jul 2011 By ANDREW CHUTER DefenseNews
LONDON - Britain has signed a deal worth nearly $1 billion with the U.S. government to support and update the three RC-135W Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft due to be supplied to the Royal Air Force as part of a sales agreement sealed last year.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman has confirmed that procurement chief Bernard Gray and his U.S. counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding for the sustainment and follow-on development phase of the deal last month, just days before the British retired the Nimrod R1s the Rivet Joint will replace.
"The chief of defense materiel signed the MoU on June 23; his U.S. counterpart signed on June 6," said the spokeswoman. "The MoU establishes a cooperative agreement through to 2025 for the support of the U.K.'s Rivet Joint system. Valued at nearly $1 billion, the MoU enables the U.K. to access spares to support its in-service equipment, provides U.S. contractor assistance in-country and on deployment, and covers deep maintenance of the aircraft fleet that includes capability updates every four years."
Media here have said recently the program could be on a list of new money-saving cuts being considered by the MoD as it battles to get its finances into order. The results of a three-month review by the MoD into balancing capabilities and resources are expected to be revealed by October.
When the Foreign Military Sales deal covering the aircraft, ground exploitation systems and support arrangements was announced last year, the MoD said it was the most complex contract it had agreed with the U.S. Air Force since World War II.
Part of that arrangement involves British crews co-manning USAF Rivet Joints to partially bridge the gap in capabilities between the June 28 retirement of the final two Nimrod R1s and the introduction into service of the RAF's new aircraft. The first British crew began training for the co-manning role at USAF's Offutt Air Base in Nebraska at the start of this year and has been active for several weeks over Afghanistan and Libya, MoD sources said.
The date for delivery of the first airframe to the RAF is set for April 2014, but L-3 Communications, the contractor responsible for modifying the KC-135R aircraft to the Rivet Joint configuration, reckons it will be able to advance that date.
A spokesman for the company said it was now "anticipating delivery of the first aircraft in December 2013."
The Nimrods had been due to retire in March, but the British government opted to keep them flying for a further three months due to the onset of the Libyan crisis.
Co-manned USAF aircraft will be available to support coalition operations until the RAF get their own aircraft, said an RAF brochure handed out at the retirement ceremony.
The BBC reported that Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, chief of the Air Staff, had concerns about temporarily having to rely on USAF aircraft.
Speaking to the media organization at the Nimrod retirement at the RAF's Waddington air base, Dalton was quoted saying, "It doesn't leave a hole - it dents the depth of our capabilities. We can still do the missions we need to, but this was a more efficient way of doing things. We'll have to use other methods now."