Happy Monday, FighterSweep Fans! And to start your week off on an interesting note, Russia will formally ask permission today to start flying a particularly sophisticated ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) platform over the United States as part of the Open Skies Treaty. Reportedly, the request will be made to the Open Skies Consultative Commission, based in Vienna, Austria.
For the uninitiated, Open Skies allows unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of the thirty-four member nations to “foster transparency” about military activity and help monitor arms control and other such accords. It was signed originally in March of 1992, but went into full effect on 1 January of 2002. The original concept was proposed in 1955 by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but not surprisingly the response from our friends in Russia was a resounding one along the lines of, “Nyet!”
In response to this latest request, senior leaders in the intelligence community and Department of Defense are not super keen on the idea of having Russian aircraft prowling the skies and conducting photography using ultra-high-resolution surveillance cameras. Just a hunch, of course.
So if the Russians make their request as expected, it will put our current administration in the position of allowing said flights during this period of time when tension between the U.S. and Russia is as high as it has been in quite some time–thanks to Russian presence in both Syria and Ukraine. And, according to a compliance report in the possession of the State Department, Russia isn’t in compliance with the terms of Open Skies, anyway.
“The [Open Skies] treaty has become a critical component of Russia’s intelligence collection capability directed at the United States,” Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) wrote in a letter earlier this year to Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama who currently sits as Chairman of a House subcommittee on strategic forces.
“In addition to overflying military installations, Russian Open Skies flights can overfly and collect on Department of Defense and national security or national critical infrastructure,” Haney said. “The vulnerability exposed by exploitation of this data and costs of mitigation are increasingly difficult to characterize.”
In all likelihood, the aircraft in question is the Tupolev Tu-214ON, the ON standing for Otkritoe Nebo, or Open Skies. It is a predecessor to the Tu-214R, which as we reported, is now deployed to Syria. As a surveillance and IMINT platform, it is quite capable.
The Tu-214ON features an A-84ON panoramic camera, one AK-111 topographic camera and two perspective AK-112 digital aerial cameras to capture high-resolution imagery. Cameras are provided with interchangeable lenses and different focal lengths. The aircraft also has a set of TV cameras for low-altitude observation, in addition to an infrared line scanning sensor. To complete the ISR ensemble, the Tu-214ON is also equipped with side-looking Synthetic Aperture Radar so it can make radar maps in conditions where visibility is limited–i.e., in bad weather.
A State Department official said Sunday that treaty nations had not yet received notice of the Russian request, but that certification of the Russian plane with a “digital electro-optical sensor” could not occur until this summer because the treaty requires a 120-day advance notification.
The official also said that the treaty, which was entered into force in 2002, establishes procedures for certifying digital sensors to confirm that they are compliant with treaty requirements. The official said all signatories to the treaty agree that “transition from film cameras to digital sensors is required for the long-term viability of the treaty.”
The treaty as it was written obligates each member nation to make all of its territory available for aerial observation, and yet Putin’s regime has imposed significant restrictions on surveillance over key cities and other parts of its territory. So one can certainly reason that Russia is being very…particular…about how it conducts its Open Skies business–blatantly doing so in a way expressly suited to its own interests.
Robert Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense, told Congress: “We think that they’re going beyond the original intent of the treaty and we continue to look at this very, very closely.”
The original article on Fox News can be viewed here.
(Featured photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)