Electronic Weapons: September 8, 2001

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The British Royal Air Force operates three Nimrod-R1 aircraft in the 51st Squadron. These have been listed as communications and radar research aircraft since they were built in the 1960s. The British have now admitted that these are super-secret and sophisticated electronic snooping aircraft designed to listen in on the radio communications and classify the radar operating characteristics of the Soviet Union. While Nimrods used for naval patrols have a crew of 13 and the RAF lists the Nimrod-R1 "communications aircraft" as carrying 12, it in fact flies with 27 personnel (4 crew and 23 intelligence types) packed into quarters cramped by computers, sensors, and monitors. There are 16 consoles, of which 13 face the side and three face forward. Of these 16 consoles, seven have two operators and the other nine have only one. There was a 28th crewman (a navigator who was replaced by a computer in 1980). Because of the specialized nature of these aircraft, many of the crews have spent their entire careers in 51st Squadron. The aircraft have been steadily improved over the years, and now carry two pods for towed decoys rather than chaff and flare dispensers. The last of several upgrades (Project Extract) was cancelled in 1997 due to cost, but some elements of this program have been added. One of the original three Nimrod-R1s was lost due to an engine fire in 1995 (it ditched in the Moray Firth without loss of life) and replaced by a converted Nimrod-MR2. These planes operated in the Falklands and Gulf Wars, and have been used to support the No Fly Zone in Iraq and NATO operations in the Balkans.--Stephen V Cole

 


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