Russia wants to fly spy planes equipped with high-tech digital cameras over the United States — and it appears the Pentagon can do nothing to prevent such a move by Vladimir Putin.
On Monday, Russia filed a “request” to fly a spy plane with digital cameras in American skies just as some top U.S. defense officials have designated the county as the number one threat to the country. During the 2008 presidential election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney made the same declaration when debating Barack Obama. The president mocked his GOP rival, saying the 80s had called and wanted their foreign policy back.
According to a NDTV report, it would be extremely difficult for the Pentagon or U.S. officials to block the Russian spy planes request. Both nations are party to the Treaty on Open Skies that was passed in 1991 and became active in 2002.
The Open Skies treaty allow signatories on the measure to fly aircraft, as long as it is unarmed, to pack infrared scanning devices, some types of radar, and both video and still cameras on their planes. Although inspections on planes are routinely conducted to make sure the equipment on board remains in compliance with the treaty, the terms laid out in the treaty are reportedly “not too powerful” when it comes to adherence to the inspection process.
The Treaty of Open Skies, which was ratified by the U.S. Senate, was reportedly supposed to prevent an miscommunication about military action, which could ultimately increase tensions and lead to an armed conflict between the signatories, CBS News reports.
“We have to remember that while we have pretty good intelligence on a lot of the world, a lot of other countries don’t necessarily have that great of intelligence on us,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon representative, said. “So, in the interest of transparency and [avoiding] miscalculation on their part, sometimes it’s worthwhile to allow them to have a look at what you’re doing or what you’re not doing.”
According to Captain Davis, the U.S. frequently conducts Open Skies flights over Russia. Two years ago American pilots reportedly gave a report after such a flight over the Yokota Air Base in Japan.
Even though the flights by treaty members are largely considered routine, concerns about permitting Russia to conduct more such flights over the United States have been raised.
Mike Rogers, a Republican Representative from Alabama, and Admiral Cecil Haney penned letter that maintained the Open Skies treaty permissions are being manipulated by Russia to garner important intelligence that can be used against America. Haney is also the U.S. Strategic Command Chief.
“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 noted in the letter to government officials. “The vulnerability exposed by exploitation of this data and costs of mitigation are increasingly difficult to characterize.”
Why worry if Russian spy planes switch from film to digital? https://t.co/hekEk084vS
— Andrew E. Kramer (@AndrewKramerNYT) February 23, 2016
During a recent House Armed Services Committee meeting Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, a top intelligence officer in the military, also noted his deep concerns about the Treaty of the Open Skies. Stewart refused requests to detail his concerns during the meeting because it was an open session and designated only for the discussion of unclassified material. After noting that the treaty was created for a “different era,” the intelligence officer said he would “love” to discuss the matter further during a closed-door session.
When the Open Skies treaty was enacted, “wet film” was the technology of the day. It was not capable of garnering the close-up detailed shots that modern digital cameras can when flying over military installation and other vital pieces of infrastructure.
What do you think about Russian military spy planes flying over the United States with high-tech digital cameras?