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Fresh off of duty collecting intelligence over Libya and Afghanistan, the U.K. Ministry of Defense has put an end to the Nimrod era with today's official retirement of the Nimrod R1 signals intelligence aircraft.The sigint aircraft was slated for retirement even before the Strategic Defense and Security Review last year put an end to the maritime patrol Nimrod MRA4 program. Pressing operational needs caused the government to extend the life of the Nimrod R1 several months, but a further reprieve was not granted when the June deadline came up. (Credit: Crown Copyright 2011)One reason is safety of flight concerns within the defense ministry over the airframe in the wake of the Nimrod MK2 crash in 2006 in which 14 military personnel died. The aircraft suffered a major in-flight accident after a mid-air refueling.Today's formal retirement marks the end of a history that dates back to the first flight of a Nimrod in 1967 and its fielding in 1969. But more importantly, perhaps, it leave the U.K. with an airborne signals intelligence collection gap of at least two years as the RAF waits for its fleet of RC-135 Rivet Joints to start to be delivered. Meanwhile, it has embedded personnel with the U.S. Air Force to preserve key sigint analysis skills.
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