Nineteen years at war

Airmen from the 55th Aircraft Maintenance Unit recover a RC-135V/W Rivet Joint Oct. 7, 2009, at an air base in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

Airmen from the 55th Aircraft Maintenance Unit recover a RC-135V/W Rivet Joint Oct. 7, 2009, at an air base in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barney)

The 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, has been rotating its men, women and aircraft through the Persian Gulf since August 9th, 1990.  The wing has had people and assets deployed for a staggering seven thousand consecutive days.

“No other (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platform can make that claim,” said Capt. Dennis Knight, the 55th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge deployed here from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. The 55th AMU Airmen are responsible for servicing the aircraft while deployed.

“We specifically are listening to what is happening in the battlefield environment,” said Lt. Col. Richard Linehan, the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron commander who is responsible for the oversight of RC-135 operations. The information gathered by the RC-135 is combined with the visual intelligence collected by other platforms to provide the full spectrum of the situation on the ground.

RC-135s were first deployed Aug. 9, 1990, to take part in Operation Desert Storm and have since played a role in every CENTCOM operation. Colonel Linehan has worked with RC-135s his entire 18-year career and first deployed with them in 1994. He’s no stranger to milestones. In 1995, as a young co-pilot, he participated in the 1,000th RC-135 sortie in the AOR.

…Colonel Linehan noted some changes of his own, mainly in the length of deployments. He said that in the past personnel would deploy here for 60 or 90 days. The group of Airmen here now is the first to be deployed for 120 days. He added that he is just the second 763rd ERS commander to be deployed for a full year.

“That is a big change in terms of the continuity that we can provide to the squadron,” he said.

— Dobrydney, David (A1C, USAF).  “Unit surpasses consecutive 7,000 days with forces in Southwest Asia.”  379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, 8 October 2009.

The RC-135s being employed achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in January of 1964; the youngest of the aircraft was built in 1964, the oldest in 1962.  The United States Air Force has seventeen of the V/W models in its active inventory.  They have a crew of four (or five for longer missions), and carry fourteen intelligence operators and four maintenance personnel.  They have received a series of upgrades over their lifetime, keeping their avionics and comm gear up-to-date, and the fleet has also recently been re-engined with newer General Electric CFM-56 high-bypass turbofans.  The Rivet Joint aircraft are among the most critical of low-density, high-demand ISR aircraft.

Canadian readers are invited to contemplate the state of our nineteen ancient CC-130Es (built in 1967-8), which comprise two-thirds of our CC-130 tactical airlift fleet, and many of which operate under mission-crippling flight restrictions due to airframe fatigue.  Also worth remembering is the CF’s requirement for yet another operational pause in 2011, having burned itself out six years after the last one.  For Canada, half a decade deployed strains the hell out of our resources and personnel; for the United States, two decades deployed is another day at the office.

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