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U.S. RC-135 Intelligence Gathering Jet Flying Unprecedented Mission Inside Finland’s Airspace

A U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Taylor Crul)

Operating from the Finnish airspace, the U.S. ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft can spy on the Russian forces near the border with Finland.

Flying as JAKE 11, the Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint #62-4131 aircraft is currently flying a mission inside Finnish airspace along the eastern border with Russia. How do we know? Because the aircraft is flying, once again and as per SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) in these days, with its ADS-B transponder turned on. Again, they want their mission to be visible (as done previously by the U.S. B-52s deployed to Moron AB, Spain, for the current Bomber Task Force )

The spyplane, deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, became visible on flight tracking websites as it flew over Poland. From there, it headed northeast-bound, overflying Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It then went “feet wet” over the Gulf of Finland: as the Rivet Joint transitioned through the Estonian airspace in bound to the Finnish one, two Eurofighters, a German one using radio callsign BARON 1, and an RAF Typhoon FGR.4, using c/s BARON 002, were also noted tracking online during a mission from Ämari, Estonia, where they are based to jointly support NATO BAP (Baltic Air Policing).

While Finland progresses toward membership in NATO, the first surveillance mission of an ally inside the Finnish airspace comes amid growing cooperation between the Nordic state and international partners. Here’s what the Finnish Defence Forces said about the historic first mission on Mar. 23, 2023:

The Finnish Defence Forces carries out surveillance flights in Finnish airspace together with key international partners. The first flight will be conducted in cooperation with the United States on Thursday 23 March 2023.

There have been no changes in Finland’s military security situation or environment in the recent past. Flight operations with international partners is art of normal bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The flights develop the interoperability of the Finnish Defence Forces, improve the common situational awereness and strengthen national defence. The flights show a mutual commitment to developing defence cooperation.

For operational security reasons, the details of the flights cannot be published.

Similar flights in Finnish airspace will be carried out in the future as well with different types of aircraft, both unmanned and manned. The flights are carried out under national direction and supervision, in accordance with Finnish national laws and regulations.

While RC-135s operate in the Arctic region, “observing” the Russian movements in the Barents area, also dubbed “Russia’s Naval Backyard”, from the eastern part of the Finnish airspace, they can surveil the movements along the Finland/Russia border from a much closer and “comfortable” position: from there, the Rivet Joint’s wide array of antennae and sensors, can eavesdrop enemy signals, transmissions, and detect frequencies used by radio and radars, pinpointing sites of interest, mobile stations, SAM batteries, etc. within a large area of operation.

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The U.S. RC-135W inside the Finnish Airspace as seen on

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The U.S. RC-135W inside the Finnish Airspace as seen on

BTW, as JAKE 11 operates over Finland, an RAF RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft from 51 Squadron, which is part of the RAF’s Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance Force, is operating over Estonia, while other NATO ISR assets have also been spotted nearby: in other words, today, NATO is enjoying an unprecedented “view” at the Russian activities along the alliance eastern border, from Belarus up north to the Kola Peninsula.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

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