Washington, D.C., United States—After much deliberation, the U.S. government has authorized a Russian reconnaissance aircraft to fly over American soil as part of the Open Skies Treaty.
U.S. authorities have now determined that the aircraft does indeed comply with the Treaty’s provisions. According to the U.S. State Department, after “an extensive review and inspection process involving experts from the United States and many of our Allies and partners. This process has verified that the Russian aircraft and sensor meets all Treaty requirements for certification.”
The Open Skies Treaty enables its 34 signatories to fly over each other’s territory and verify military installations, movement, and general activity. One of the Treaty’s key functions is to serve as an arms control measurement. Before any flights take place, the nations involved must coordinate to avoid any unpleasant situations.
“We are actively working with our Allies and partners to strengthen the Open Skies Treaty and to resolve issues of mutual concern such as the impasse at the Open Skies Consultative Commission that continues to delay the commencement of treaty flights in 2018,” said a State Department representative.
The initial decision to deny the Tu-214 surveillance aircraft appears to be a tactical move from the Pentagon and State Department. According to Andrea Thompson, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, the Russian aircraft was delayed because the U.S. authorities had “to consult with some additional technical experts” over some of its surveillance equipment.
The Open Skies Treaty has been highly debated both in the U.S. and in Europe. Proponents argue that it enabled the better surveillance of Russian military developments. Opponents, conversely, assert that U.S. or allied aircraft can’t gain enough intelligence and that Russia is getting the better part of the deal.
“We haven’t had a flight all year. We can live without that data, but it hurts the 32 other countries that do not have the same alternative resources that we do,” said Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I think the Open Skies Treaty clearly has been in the United States interests and certainly because of the transparency it provides the openness, the level of visibility of what other states are doing that it provides not only to us but to our allies as well,” added David Trachtenberg, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis has also voiced his support for the Treaty. He argued in a letter that the Treaty “contributes to greater transparency and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region, which benefits both the United States and our allies and partners. The Treaty also produces imagery that is verifiable and unclassified, which allows for its use in international or bilateral fora.”
On a side note, in 2017, the U.S. conducted only 64 percent of its planned overflight missions due to limited availability of aircraft.