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RC-135U Combat Sent

The RC-135U Combat Sent provides strategic electronic reconnaissance information to the National Command Authorities, Defense Department leaders, and theater commanders. Locating and identifying foreign military land, naval and airborne radar signals, the Combat Sent collects and minutely examines each system, providing strategic analysis for warfighters. Collected data is also stored for further analysis by the joint warfighting and intelligence communities. The Combat Sent deploys worldwide and is employed in peacetime and contingency operations.

The aircraft are identified by their distinctive antennae arrays on the “chin” and wing tips, large cheek fairings, and extended tail. There are only two Combat Sent aircraft in the Air Force inventory and both are assigned to the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Neb. The RC-135U aircraft are manned by Air Combat Command crews from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS) and 97th Intelligence Squadron (IS).

Crew composition includes two pilots, two navigators, two airborne systems engineers, and a minimum of 10 electronic warfare officers, or "Ravens," from the 45th RS, and six or more electronic, technical, and area specialists from the 97th IS.

All RC-135U aircraft are equipped with an aerial refueling system, giving it an unlimited flying range. Communication equipment includes high frequency, very high frequency, and ultra high frequency radios. The navigation equipment incorporates a ground navigation radar, a solid state Doppler system, and an inertial navigation system that merges celestial observations and Global Positioning System data. Although the flight crew stations are similarly configured, the reconnaissance equipment is slightly unique within each airframe.

The Combat Sent is comprised of a wide variety of commercial off-the-shelf and proprietary hardware and software. Its current configuration allows for both manual and automatic analysis of electronic signals. By combining manual systems with the Automatic Electronic Emitter Locating System (AEELS), Ravens and intelligence specialists can simultaneously locate, identify, and analyze multiple electronic signals.

The Combat Sent records these signals for future reference or for extensive analysis by electronic systems theorists. Any information garnered from the data will help determine detailed operating characteristics and capabilities of foreign systems. Evasion techniques and equipment are then developed from this knowledge that will detect, warn of, or defeat these electronic systems.

General Characteristics
Contractor: Boeing Aerospace
Power Plant: Four Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-9 turbofans
Thrust: 16,050 pounds per engine
Length: 140 ft., 1 n.
Height: 41 ft. 8 in.
Wingspan: 135 ft., 1 in.
Speed: 350 Knots Indicated Air Speed
Ceiling: 35,000+ ft.
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 299,000 pounds
Range: 4,000 nautical air miles (Unlimited with air refueling)
Number in Air Force Inventory: Two 

(Current as of July 2003)