A Russian surveillance plane recently flew over several American military bases, including Area 51, perhaps America’s most secretive military site.
The plane, a Tupolev 154, was first spotted in Northern California last week. News of the flight mission, which occurred under the Treaty on Open Skies and took place on March 28
The Russians are operating their Tu-154M aircraft configured for surveillance flights sanctioned. The aircraft are equipped with imaging equipment with specific limitations and monitors from the country being surveilled are onboard the flights to make certain the party complies with the parameters of the treaty. This latest series of Russian Open Skies flights are being conducted out of Great Falls, Montana and are covering a slew of strategic points in the western part of the United States, including the highly secure Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR) in southern Nevada, home of Area 51.
The mid-day flight on March 28th, 2019 appears to have originated out of Travis AFB, located near San Francisco and continued on something of a highlights tour of American military installations in California and Nevada. It flew south over central California, passing near bases like Naval Air Station Lemoore and headed out over the Channel Islands. It then headed directly over Edwards AFB before meandering around Fort Irwin and on to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake before hooking a right and heading toward Creech AFB in Nevada. It then headed north, directly into the NTTR—the most secure airspace in the United States along with Washington, D.C.
America’s nuclear weapons assembly plants is located, and a secretive airstrip that specializes in test flights of unmanned aircraft, as well as other sensitive Department Of Energy installations. It then headed over the pockmarked Nevada Test Site. Area 51 sits just to the east of this location. The aircraft’s panoramic cameras can collect fairly wide swathes of imagery along the Open Skies aircraft’s flight path.
The voyage continued north, with Tonopah Test Range to the east, before heading northeast towards Salt Lake. It passed somewhat near Dugway Proving Grounds on its way back to Great Falls, but it’s not clear if the aircraft was collecting imagery at that time. If it was, it was doing so at double the altitude as before. The Tu-154 flew at an altitude of around 14,000 to 15,000 feet for the part of its trip over Nevada and California, before climbing out to above 30,000 feet after exiting the NTTR and heading back to its temporary base of operations in Great Falls.
Under the agreement, which was first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in July 1955 and ultimately signed in 1992, the treaty “permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.”
What is the Open Skies Treaty?
The Open Skies Treaty was an agreement established between 34 signatory nations that allow for un-armed and observed military surveillance flights over one another’s nations — in short, it grants these nations stipulated permissions to fly spy planes through each other’s airspace to keep track of various elements of any nation’s military apparatus. Russia and the United States, both signatory members of the treaty, use this agreement to fly their reconnaissance aircraft over areas of strategic interest, but those flights must come with prior approval from the host nation and usually even include local observers flying on board the surveillance flights. Strict regulations are meant to ensure only certain types of intelligence is gathered, and the local observers ensure these flights abide by the terms that have been agreed to ahead of time.
While tensions between the United States and Russia have increased in recent years thanks to Russian disinformation and espionage operations the world over, these two nations still maintain a number of security-centric treaties meant to diffuse the possibility of open war. While some of these treaties have been very publicly tossed aside in recent months, others, like 1992’s Open Skies agreement, remains an active (and often contested) bit of America’s tumultuous relationship with Putin’s Russia.
“The treaty is also aimed at building confidence and familiarity among states-parties through their participation in the overflights,” according to a description of the agreement. There are 34 members of the treaty, including the U.S., the Russia Federation and Germany. Notably, China is not a member.
Any observing party must give “at least 72 hours’ advance notice” to the host nation before conducting a flight. The host country has 24 hours to acknowledge the request and is required to ask the observing party if it can use its own plane or if one must be supplied.
Additionally, the flight plan must be supplied to the host country (which has 4 hours to review) and the only changes that can be requested are ones for safety or logistical reasons.
Both the Air Force and the Dept. of Defense have yet to respond to a request for comment for this story from Fox News, but an Air Force spokesperson told the plane was in compliance with the treaty before it took off on its journey. There were also U.S. observers onboard the plane to monitor the flight.
The plane’s transponder shows that it flew over Sacramento, as well as other military sites on the west coast, including Edwards Air Force Base, Coronado Island, Camp Pendleton and the Nevada test site now known as Area 51
In, in 2013, the U.S. government finally acknowledged the existence of the secretive Area 51, after a series of declassified documents were released.