Would you expect to see a Tupolev 154 – a Russian aircraft – flying in the skies above the US without facing any opposition? Nonetheless, a Tupolev 154 has been spotted a number of times in the skies above the US. The unarmed aircraft is part of the open skies observation flights, and that is precisely why it is being allowed to fly over the US.
The Open Skies treaty enables members from 34 countries to conduct flights over the members of the treaty for the sake of carrying out aerial surveillance. The program was designed with the hopes of creating a feeling of trust between members of the treaty. Each member state is capable of keeping an eye on the other member states from the skies.
The treaty is not a new treaty. In fact, the Open Skies treaty was signed in March 1992, but it was only after 1st January 2002 that this treaty entered force. As of right now, the open skies treaty has a total of 34 members. Some of the names on the list include France, Russia, the UK, the US, Canada, and Turkey. With the approval of the Open Skies Consultative Commission, additional states can enter the treaty as well. Ever since the treaty entered into force, a total of eight additional countries have signed the treaty.
The treaty on Open Skies gives permission to member states for conducting aerial surveillance flights over other members. These flights are allowed over the complete territory of a nation. The country that is being surveilled is not allowed to restrict flights for any reasons other than that of flight safety. When flying over a participating country’s territory, aircraft are allowed to capture images and videos.
However, a limit has been placed on the sensors and cameras that are allowed to be used. Firstly, they should be available to all members of the treaty. Furthermore, the captured images should be at a resolution of 30 cm. Reportedly, this is enough to allow an aircraft to ‘distinguish between a truck and a tank.’ Lastly, the aircraft should be unarmed during such flights.
So, this is why a Russian Tupolev 154 was flying over the US. It is observing the US for the sake of the Russian Air Force – as is allowed by the treaty of Open Skies. Other members of this treaty are allowed to acquire the imagery that is created by such flights. The only linked cost is the cost that the member has to bear for the reproduction of such imagery.