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RC-135V/W RIVET JOINT aircraft are extensively modified C-135 transport aircraft, flown by the United States Air Force, which provide near-real-time communications intelligence (COMINT) and probably measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) to theater and national consumers.[1] They are operated by United States Strategic Command (USSOCOM), as part of the Joint Force Component for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, a joint operation with the Defense Intelligence Agency. They are flown by the 38th and 343rd Reconnaissance Squadrons, which are part of the 55th Wing, based at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

The COMINT emphasis of the RIVET JOINT contrasts with the electronic intelligence (ELINT) focus of the RC-135U COMBAT SENT. With recent architectural changes, there is an increased commonality of parts with the RC-135S COBRA BALL aircraft aircraft, which have a more MASINT emphasis, focused on test and operational ballistic missile launch. This will allow a RIVET JOINT aircraft to be reconfigured as a COBRA BALL, and vice versa. In addition, the functions of the RIVET JOINT, COBRA BALL, and RC-135 COMBAT SENT could be complementary during actual fighting, and these three intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft further complement the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and the E-8 Joint STARS ground surveillance radar aircraft.


Multiple, complementary systems are aboard the RIVET JOINT, with modifications in equipment and manning for specific missions. Some are part of the Joint SIGINT Avionics Family (JSAF), which is also used on the United States Navy EP-3 ARIES II SIGINT aircraft. At present, the aircraft does not have coverage of all appropriate frequency bands.

Joint SIGINT Avionics Family

Joint Airborne SIGINT Architecture (JASA) is made up of two main components:

  • Joint SIGINT Avionics Family (JSAF)
  • Joint Interoperable Operator Network (JION)[2], which allow the networking of a wide range of different intelligence disciplines ("multi-INT"). This architecture recognizes that disciplines are complementary; a human message intercepted by a communications intelligence platform such as RIVET JOINT may alert a MASINT platform, such as COBRA BALL, that a missile test is imminent. If the MASINT sensor detects an event first, it may cue a COMINT or electronic intelligence (ELINT) platform, sending the position of the signal it detected to the antenna-pointing logic of the other platform.

High Band

The High Band Sub-System (HBSS) consists a series of Super High Frequency (SHF) antennas, signal distibution system, receivers, and signal analyzers. These allow exploiting low probability of intercept signals, with intercept protection such as frequency agility and co-channel interference. [3]

Low Band

Another JASA component is the Low Band Subsystem [LBSS], scheduled for full operation by 2010. operational UAV deployment by 2010. Its Advanced Tuner Packaging will increase bandwidth by receiver fourfold. Its processing system improves throughput by an order of magnitude.

LBSS is scalable, and configured with chassis and cards to meet platform needs.

High Frequency Direction Finding

A RIVET JOINT High Frequency (HF) Direction Finding (DF) System adds a ten element HF array antenna on RIVET JOINT to provide HF DF capability, and upgrades the Joint SIGINT Avionics Family (JSAF) LowBand SubSystem (LBSS) receiver to process HF DF.

The previous RIVET JOINT HF capability was limited to a long wire antenna that allowed intercept and analysis, but not direction finding. Without HF DF, the aircraft will continue to have no DF capability in this increasingly significant frequency band. [3]

Defensive systems

The infrared countermeasures was not limited to flares, but directed energy from the AN/ALQ-157 system.[4] The aircraft has an AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispenser System [CMDS], is a "smart" dispenser that connects directly to infrared and radar warning receivers, release expendable and towed/retrivable decoys, as well as helping the pilot with situational awareness of the threat.

General Characteristics

  • Primary Function: Reconnaissance
  • Contractor: L-3 Communications
  • Power Plant: Four CFM International F108-CF-201 high bypass turbofan engines
  • Thrust: 21,600 pounds each engine
  • Wingspan: 131 feet (39.9 meters)
  • Length: 135 feet (41.1 meters)
  • Height: 42 feet (12.8 meters)
  • Weight: 173,000 pounds (78,743 kilograms)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 297,000 pounds (133,633 kilograms)
  • Fuel Capacity: 130,000 pounds (58,967 kilograms
  • Speed: 500+ miles per hour (Mach.66)
  • Range: 3,900 miles (6,500 kilometers)
  • Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
  • Crew: (flight crew) five (augmented) - three pilots, two navigators; (mission flight crew) 21-27, depending on mission requirements, minimum consisting of three electronic warfare officers, 14 intelligence operators and four inflight/airborne maintenance technicians
  • Unit Cost: unavailable
  • Initial operating capability: January 1964
  • Inventory: Active force, 13; Reserve, 0; Guard, 0

Other users

Britain may replace three BaE Systems Nimrod R-series SIGINT aircraft with RIVET JOINT platforms, using a mixture of British and U.S. electronics.[5]