US Conducts Open Skies Flight Over Russia

An OC-135 Open Skies aircraft prepares to take off Sept. 14, 2018, from the flight line at Offutt AFB, Neb. Air Force photo by Charles Haymond.

An Air Force OC-135B is conducting Open Skies Treaty observation flights over Russia over the next few days, the first time the specially equipped aircraft has flown in that country in almost a year and a half because of an “impasse” regarding treaty member nations.

The OC-135B, assigned to the 55th Operations Group at Offutt AFB, Neb., began observation flights Thursday, will fly through Friday, and is scheduled to depart Russia on Saturday, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said in a statement. Russia was made aware of the flight on Feb. 12, and six Russian observers were on board the flight, per treaty procedures.

The US and Russia have regularly conducted these flights since the treaty went into effect in 2002; however, this is the first flight since Nov. 2017 because of an “impasse that prevented standard Treaty flights for all states parties throughout 2018,” Davis said. The impasse preventing these flights was related to disagreements between Russia and Georgia, according to the Pentagon.

In addition, the US had declined to certify the Russian version of the treaty aircraft, a Tu-214, until it was inspected by US and allied partners last fall, according to the State Department.

In December, the US along with Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Romania flew an “extraordinary” Open Skies flight over Ukraine, though “that was conducted under a treaty provision separate from standard, annually allocated treaty flights,” Davis said.

In October, the 34 member countries agreed on flight plans for 2019, and those flights have begun taking place this year, Davis said.

The Open Skies Treaty, first signed in 1992, allows member states the right to fly reconnaissance aircraft to take pictures over a member country’s territory, “including information about the military forces and activities,” Davis said.