The US or British Royal Air Force (RAF) RC-135V/W Rivet Joint aircraft are reportedly collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT) to provide target coordinates of Russian air defense radars to the Ukrainian Air Force.
Three Su-30 Fighters, Five Su-24 Fencers Destroyed As Russia’s Crimean Air Base Comes Under Attack — Speculative Reports
There has been an uptick in precision attacks on Russian troops and positions, with the latest speculations that Ukraine could have stuck a Russian military base in Crimea.
The US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Kahl, said in a press conference on August 8 that the US has sent “several anti-radiation missiles that can be fired off of Ukrainian aircraft that can have effects on Russia radars and other things.”
Kahl’s remarks came shortly after Russian Telegram channels released the allegedly destroyed AGM-88 HARM images.
Russian channels have posted images of what appear to be the remains of an AGM-88 HARM antiradiation missile. A fragment of the HARM’s BSU-60A/B stabilization fin can be seen in the wreckage.
The missile was reportedly fired at a Russian position. pic.twitter.com/GCNA55CJdj
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) August 7, 2022
However, as EurAsian Times discussed earlier, it remains unclear how exactly the Ukrainian military is employing the AGM-88 if it has received this missile from the US.
This is because the Ukrainian military only has its aging fleet of MiG-29, Su-24, Su-25, and Su-27, all Soviet-made platforms, lacking the appropriate interfaces to communicate targeting information from the launch aircraft to the western-made AGM-88 missile and the missile status back to the aircraft.
RC-135V/W Helping Ukraine?
Recent unverified Russian-language media reports have speculated that the RC-135V/W Rivet, operated by the US Air Force (USAF) and the RAF, which have maintained a near-constant presence in the skies overseeing the Black Sea and the coast of Romania, could have been used to gather targeting information for AGM-88 missiles provided to Ukraine.
Similar assertions were made by Thomas C. Theiner, a former Italian Army veteran who has been analyzing and reporting on open-source intelligence and conflicts in the former Soviet Union since the Russian takeover of Crimea.
Theiner, in a Twitter thread, suggested that the Ukrainian Air Force could deploy their AGM-88 in a “Pre-Briefed mode,” in which the missile “is programmed before the fighter departs from the air base with the coordinates of an enemy radar site.”
These coordinates, according to Theiner, could either be provided to Ukraine by locals reporting the locations of Russian air defense systems, radars, jammers, electronic warfare systems, or USAF/RAF RC-135V/W Rivet Joint aircraft, which are used to detect, identify and geolocate electromagnetic signals.
After that, all the Ukrainian fighter pilots have to do is lift their fighter jets, loaded with AGM-88, “go supersonic, and release the missile,” said Theiner, while noting that the fighters can “release the AGM-88 at maximum speed and maximum altitude, giving the missile a range above 150 kilometers.”
“Once released, the AGM-88 will fly towards the coordinates, and when it reaches lock-on range, it will scan for, detect, lock on and attack,” Theiner continued. As reported by EurAsian Times, the AGM-88 has a terminal homing capability that provides the launch aircraft with the launch-and-leave ability.
Theiner said, “the USAF Rivet Joints have been used before to detect enemy radar and radio emissions and then vector AGM-88 carrying fighters towards these targets,” noting that “the RC-135 flying over Romania can only scan the Kherson Oblast… anything further is out of range.”
RC-135V/W Rivet Joint Aircraft
The RC-135V/W Rivet Joint aircraft, also called Airseeker, is a four-engine medium-weight reconnaissance aircraft designed and constructed by Boeing Defense and Integrated Systems. It is derived from the C-135 Stratolifter and can perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations.
The Rivet Joints are equipped with a suit of sensors that enable the aircraft to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum, thereby helping the US and its NATO allies to collect intelligence on the electronic order of battle of Russian forces.
The Rivet can locate the locations and types of enemy radars, communications nodes, electronic warfare systems, and other transmitters. Furthermore, it is also capable of eavesdropping on enemy communications.
The aircraft can carry 30 people, which includes the cockpit crew, electronic warfare officers, intelligence operators, and in-flight maintenance technicians.
It means that the electronic warfare officers and intelligence operators, such as analysts and linguists onboard, can process, analyze and disseminate intelligence in real-time, thereby expediting the flow of potentially time-sensitive or actionable information.
The maximum airspeed of the aircraft is 870km/h, and the range and service ceiling is 6,500 kilometers and 39,000ft, respectively.
Near-Constant Presence Of RC-135V/Ws
Based on the observations of the online aircraft-tracking enthusiasts, RC-135V/Ws have been airborne around the Ukrainian border almost daily since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Therefore, the possibility of the Joint Rivets supplying target coordinates to Ukraine to use AGM-88 missiles against Russian air defense radars cannot be ruled out.
— Heo TaeJin (@AIYeyENGDdJkjTr) August 8, 2022
Moreover, Veteran IAF fighter pilot Squadron Leader Vijainder K. Thakur had also previously raised this possibility when asked by the EurAsian Times about reports of AGM-88 missiles supplied to Ukraine.
“It is possible that coordinates of the emitter could be fed to the launching aircraft over a data link from US electronic eavesdropping aircraft flying close to Ukrainian airspace. It’s something that the US would not acknowledge, but Russia would know,” Thakur said.
Also, shortly after Ukraine forces sunk the Russian Black Sea fleet’s flagship Moskva guided-missile cruiser in April, reports began emerging that the US had provided intelligence that helped Ukraine strike one of the Russian Navy’s biggest ships.
The 1st video of the Moskva missile cruiser before it sank, if photos posted last night are accurate. It was listing to one side & on fire inside & out, with the area around the bridge burning intensely from what Ukraine says was 2 missile strikes pic.twitter.com/0QpI1tzOrI
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 18, 2022
More specifically, US intelligence reportedly helped the Ukrainian forces determine the ship’s identity sailing south of Odesa and its exact location for a precise attack using missiles.
As stated earlier, the Joint Rivets have been maintaining a near-constant presence over the Black Sea and Romania to guard NATO’s eastern flank in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Still, it is not just east Europe that has the US worried.
Joint Rivets Watch Over Taiwan As Well
Tensions have increased significantly in the Pacific, in the backdrop of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, following which the Chinese military launched military drills in waters surrounding Taiwan.
The drills that lasted nearly a week were aimed at demonstrating the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) ability to cut off Taiwan’s ports, attack its most critical military facilities, and block access for outside forces that might come to the island nation’s aid.
EurAsian Times reported on August 9 that on the second day of these military drills, seven US reconnaissance planes were spotted operating close to Taiwan, one of which was the RC-135V Joint Rivet that specializes in SIGINT collection.
PLA Exercises Day 2: US military strengthens aerial ISR operations around Taiwan island, at least 1 RC-135S, 1 RC-135V, 3 P-8As, 1 E-3G, 1 U-2S are on the spot, supported by 6 KC-135 tankers, August 5. #Pelosi #Taiwan pic.twitter.com/VlzRE7qUeN
— SCS Probing Initiative (@SCS_PI) August 5, 2022
In fact, in recent months, the Joint Rivet has been increasingly conducting surveillance flights over China, with at least two known instances in July alone, according to the data collected by open-source flight trackers.
USAF RC-135V 64-14843 as SURF53 is currently flying a collection sortie off the southeastern coast of China. Red dots are People's Liberation Army facilities as mapped by @JosephWen___. Range is an estimate of the distance to the horizon. #ADSB #AE01C5 pic.twitter.com/R2znnXdguk
— Amelia Smith (@ameliairheart) July 19, 2022
On July 19, a USAF RC-135V was found flying over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, followed by another flight on July 28, in which the Joint Rivet flew a collection sortie off the south-eastern coast of China.