Russian Spy Plane Flies Surveillance Mission Over U.S: Mission Is Legal Under Open Skies Treaty

A Russian aircraft, a modified version of a military passenger jet, entered U.S. airspace on Monday to conduct surveillance flights. The aircraft entered U.S. airspace and flew over the country, snapping photos of the terrain below to spy on ongoing activity in major U.S. nuclear bases. But, according to U.S. authorities, the spying activity of the Russian aircraft was legal under The Treaty on Open Skies, or Open Skies Treaty signed during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

The Treaty on Open Skies which entered into force in January of 2002, allows the Russians to fly spy planes over the U.S. and Canada, while the U.S. is also allowed to fly its spy planes over Russia. The U.S., Canada, Russia and several European countries signed the treaty in 1992 to enhance compliance with the terms of international nuclear arms control agreements.

The Open Skies Treaty allows member nations to fly over any part of the territory of other member nations to confirm that they are abiding by the terms of treaties to limit the stockpiling of certain categories of weapons or armaments.

According to Newsweek, the Russians sent a Tu-154M LK-1 passenger jet equipped with special cameras to conduct Russia’s ninth surveillance mission over the U.S. this year. The surveillance flights will be conducted from April 10 to 15, according to Popular Mechanics.


The Russians will also fly their 10th surveillance mission this year over neighboring Canada — a member of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) — from April 18 to 22.

U.S. and Canadian specialists are allowed on board Russian surveillance planes to ensure that the planes are equipped only with the type of surveillance sensors allowed under the Open Skies Treaty.

The Treaty on Open Skies allows member nations to carry “video cameras and panoramic and framing cameras for daylight photography; infra-red line scanning systems, which can operate by day and night; and synthetic aperture radar, which can operate day and night in any weather.”

Only camera equipment with specified imaging capabilities is allowed.

The treaty does not allow member nations flying surveillance missions to use aircraft carrying or fitted with weapons. The treaty also does not allow surveillance aircraft to carry equipment that can detect radio and radar transmissions, or any equipment capable of intercepting communications as these could intercept signals while flying over military bases.

The aircraft began flights over the United States on Monday along routes previously agreed upon by the parties. It flew in search of evidence that the U.S. is violating nuclear arms agreements, including the New START Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).


The parties had previously agreed that the Russian aircraft would enter the U.S. through Dulles International airport in Virginia. Russian surveillance crafts are also allowed to operate through Travis Air Force Base on the West Coast, through Alaska’s Elmendorf Air Force Base, and Lincoln Municipal Airport in Nebraska.

They are allowed to refuel at several airports across the country, including in Hawaii, Wisconsin, Montana, Arizona, and Tennessee.

“Within the framework of the Treaty on Open Skies, a group of Russian inspectors is planning to carry out an observation flight on Tu-154M LK-1 aircraft over the United States and Canada,” Sergei Ryzhkov, who heads Russia’s National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, said in a statement to Sputnik News.

Member nations are allowed to conduct an agreed upon number of flights a year and at any time of the year. But members generally inform each ahead of time for convenience.

The U.S. and Russia conduct 42 missions a year in each other’s airspace. The surveillance missions continue to be conducted despite rising tensions between Russia and the U.S. in recent years.

U.S. and French surveillance specialists conducted surveillance over Russia under the Open Skies Treaty from February 27 to March 4 earlier this year, flying a specially designed Boeing OC-135B.

[Featured Image by Alexandra Mlejnkova/AP Photo]