Air Force Link News Article

RC-135 flies 1,000th mission in SWA

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- An RC-135, Rivet Joint, aircraft from the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Neb., flew the 1,000th mission in support of Operation Southern Watch Feb. 22.

The hog-nosed RC-135, with its extensive antennae array, provides vital real-time battle management information to mission planners, commanders and warfighters. The aircraft is a high-altitude version of the C-135, which is a militarized version of the Boeing 707.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Keck, 4404th Wing (Provisional) commander deployed to the region from the 55th Wing, piloted the historic mission.

"The 1,000th mission is a tribute to the crewmembers and maintainers who have worked to ensure that we are able to employ forces decisively, effectively and efficiently to support the warfighters," he said.

Though the Rivet Joint has flown 1,000 missions in direct support of United States, British and French forces responsible for enforcing United Nations sanctions against Iraq, the platform has been operating in the region since August 1990 and through Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

The platform provides allied aircraft flying in the region a crystal clear picture of the threats they could encounter, Keck said in explaining the importance of the Rivet Joint.

"People everywhere depend on the product of the Rivet Joint," he said. "They realize the capability of the platform and demand the product."

The Rivet Joint crew consists of members of several 55th Wing squadron. The pilots, navigators and maintainers are assigned to the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron. The electronic warfare officers, known as Ravens, and inflight maintenance technicians are from the 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron. The 97th Intelligence Squadron makes up the final portion of the crew. Due to the high demand for the aircraft, the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron and 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron have supplemented the crews and flown missions in the region.

Keck said all of the reconnaissance platforms work together to provide support to warfighters. The Rivet Joint and AWACS work especially close to amplify radar tracks and make the battle management picture clear.

The 55th is the only wing that flies the Rivet Joint and is heavily tasked worldwide. That has an impact on those who fly aboard, causing concern for Col. Steve Popelka, 55th Wing Operations Group deputy commander.

"It's not unusual for our crew members to be away from Offutt on temporary duty for 180 days each year," he said.

Air Combat Command headquarters is looking for ways to bring TDY rates to a reasonable level, Popelka said.

The 55th Wing, Air Combat Command's largest, has global responsibilities. It meets those responsibilities with its nearly 8,000 people and five worldwide operating locations.