THE OPEN SKIES TREATY
On March 24, 1992, the United States, Canada, and 22 European
nations signed the Treaty on Open Skies. The United States officially
ratified the treaty on November 3, 1993. The treaty has not yet entered
into force, however, because Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine have not yet
President Bush revived the Open Skies concept in May 1989. At the
time, the United States believed that the Open Skies concept would
reduce the chances of military confrontation and build confidence in
Europe by providing participants with the ability to collect information
about the military forces and activities of others in the treaty. In
addition, even though the United States and Russia can collect this type
of information with sophisticated observation satellites, Open Skies
observation flights will provide nations who do not have their own
satellites with a way to participate in the data collection and
The parties to the Treaty on Open Skies have agreed to permit
unarmed aircraft to conduct observation flights over their entire
territories. The United States Air Force has modified three C-135
aircraft for this purpose. Open Skies aircraft can be equipped with four
types of sensors: optical panoramic and framing cameras, video cameras;
infrared line-scanning devices; and sideways-looking synthetic aperture
radars. These sensors must be based on off-the-shelf technology that is
available to all participants in the treaty. The treaty includes quotas
that specify maximum numbers of observation flights that can occur
within each nation each year and the maximum number of observation
flights each nation can conduct each year. For the United States, these
quotas are 42 flights per year; however, only 4 flights will occur over
U.S. territory in the first year that the treaty is in force. In
addition, the United States will conduct only 9 observation flights
during the first year of treaty implementation; 8 over Russia and
Belarus and one, in conjunction with Canada, over Ukraine.
When the Senate reviewed the Open Skies Treaty in 1992 and 1993,
Members raised several concerns about the implications of the treaty for
the United States. For example, some were concerned that the costs of
outfitting and operating the U.S. Open Skies aircraft would outweigh the
benefits that the United States would receive by participating in the
treaty. As a result, the Senate suggested that the United States
restrict its participation, conducting fewer than the 42 permitted
observation flights per year. Some were also concerned about potential
risks to U.S. security from observation flights that would gather
information on U.S. military forces and activities. If the Open Skies
Treaty remains in force for many years, the United States could host
dozens of visits by other participants, with foreign military aircraft
equipped with sensors flying over U.S. territory. Virtually all
observers agree, however, that these flights will pose no security
threat to the United States.
THE OPEN SKIES TREATY
On March 24, 1992, the United States, Canada, and 22 European
nations signed the Treaty on Open Skies.1 This version of an Open Skies
Treaty had grown out of a May 1989 proposal by President George Bush; he
envisioned an agreement that would promote cooperation and build
confidence between the two Cold War blocs -- NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Because the Warsaw Pact dissolved before the Treaty was completed, it
emerged as an agreement among the European nations, the United States
and Canada (rather than as a treaty between two opposing alliances). The
Open Skies Treaty has not yet entered into force, however, because
Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine have not ratified it.
Each of the parties to the Treaty on Open Skies will permit unarmed
aircraft operated by any other party to fly over its territory to
observe military forces and activities. By allowing the participants to
gain insights and understanding into the military capabilities of
potential adversaries, the treaty can, according to its supporters,
build confidence, reduce the chances of military confrontation, and
encourage cooperation among the nations of Europe. Under the terms of
the Treaty, observation aircraft from the other participants can conduct
up to 42 flights over U.S. territory each year. (Russia, too, will be
subject to 42 flights; the other participants will host between 2 and 12
flights each year.) Consequently, if the Open Skies Treaty remains in
force for many years, the United States could host dozens of visits by
other participants. Virtually all observers agree that these flights
will pose no security threat to the United States. However, questions
about the presence of foreign military aircraft and the purpose of the
observation flights may come up when the observation flights occur.
This report provides basic information about the rationale for the
Open Skies Treaty, the provisions that govern its implementation, and
the capabilities of the aircraft and sensors that will be used during
the observation flights. This information can help Congress review the
implementation of the treaty; it may also help Members respond to
concerns that constituents may raise about the presence of Open Skies
aircraft and observation flights around the country. The first section
of this report briefly reviews the history of negotiations on Open
Skies. The second discusses key provisions of the 1992 treaty. The
third reviews the current status of the treaty and its implementation.
The idea for a treaty on Open Skies first appeared in 1955, when
President Eisenhower suggested that the United States and Soviet Union
permit aerial observation flights over each other's territories. In
principle, aerial observation flights would permit the two nations to
reduce their reliance on worst-case estimates of the other side's
military capabilities and to demonstrate that they were willing to
cooperate with each other to ease tensions. At the same time, in the era
before the development of observation satellites, aerial observation
flights were only way for the United States to gain needed intelligence
information about military forces and activities inside the Soviet
Union. According to the Bush Administration, the Eisenhower proposal
"would have dramatically changed the quantity and quality of our
knowledge of the Soviet Union.''2 The Soviet leadership rejected
President Eisenhower's proposal, arguing that the observation flights
would simply legalize espionage.
President Bush revived the Open Skies concept in May 1989. At the
time, as the Cold War was ending, the United States believed increased
transparency in Europe would reduce the chances of military
confrontation and build confidence. According to Secretary of State
James Baker, Open Skies "would promote and consolidate the international
trends towards openness already in train.''3 The Bush Administration
also viewed Open Skies as a test of Soviet willingness to move forward
in a cooperative relationship with the United States. According to
President Bush, "Such unprecedented territorial access would show the
world the true meaning of the concept of openness. The very Soviet
willingness to embrace such a concept would reveal their commitment to
Unlike the bilateral 1955 version of Open Skies, the negotiations
that began in February 1990 included all of the members of NATO and the
Warsaw Pact.5 The United States sought a pact-to-pact treaty, with the
United States and NATO conducting observation flights over the Soviet
Union and Warsaw Pact nations, and vice versa. However, as the
negotiations proceeded, it became evident that the Eastern European
nations were not only unwilling to rely on Soviet technology to collect
data, but were also interested in conducting their observation flights
over Soviet territory.6
As a result, after the abortive Soviet coup in August 1991, the
participants altered their approach and produced a treaty among nations
rather than a pact between alliances. Each of the parties to the treaty
can collect information about and improve its understanding of the
military forces and activities of any of the other participants. As
Secretary of State Baker indicated when the treaty was submitted to the
Senate, "The Treaty on Open Skies represents the widest ranging
international effort to date to promote openness and transparency of
military forces and activities.''7 But the treaty would do more than
just build confidence and reduce the risk of conflict. Many viewed the
treaty as a symbol of the new Europe. According to Thomas Graham, the
acting Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, "By
strengthening the environment of security and confidence, such measures
increase the ability of our new partners in Europe to fill their
commitments as participants in the CSCE and to ensure that democratic
change is irrevocable. They also facilitate further security
cooperation within a more stable and predictable international
KEY PROVISIONS OF THE TREATY ON OPEN SKIES
The primary objective of the Open Skies Treaty is to reduce the risk
of conflict by providing participants with the ability to collect
information about the military forces and activities of others in the
treaty. In particular, "information derived from Open Skies flights can
contribute to participating states' national efforts to address a range
of military and civil issues. These could involve observing known
military facilities and large-scale force deployments, determining the
presence -- but not the detailed composition -- of major military forces
or large, possibly military-related construction activities. As such,
Open Skies flights could contribute to recognizing the scope of excess
military preparedness or unusual military activity."9 This information
can help a nation make informed assessments about the military
capabilities of its neighbors, provide early warning of threatening
military activities or, conversely, information that could dispel
concerns about ongoing military activities.
Most observers agree that the Open Skies Treaty will add little to
U.S. knowledge of Russian military forces and activities and little to
Russian knowledge of U.S. or NATO forces and activities. The United
States and Russia each operate sophisticated observation satellites that
can provide information without any cooperation from the other side.10
Nonetheless, many have noted that the observation flights will provide
nations who do not have their own satellite systems with a way to
participate in the data collection and confidence building process. As
Ambassador John Hawes, the U.S. representative to the Conference on Open
Skies, noted, "the treaty offers each of the participating states,
regardless of size or level of technological development, the
opportunity for direct involvement in the observation of military forces
and activities of concern on the territory of other participating
states. For most of the participating states ... Open Skies will
provide the first opportunity they have had to acquire this kind of hard
information relevant to their security."11
PROVISIONS GOVERNING OBSERVATION FLIGHTS
The parties to the Open Skies Treaty have agreed to make all of
their territory accessible to overflights by unarmed, fixed wing
aircraft. The only limitations on the flights would be those required
for reasons of flight safety.
The United States and its NATO allies proposed unrestricted access
for Open Skies observation flights when the negotiations began. By the
end of the first round of negotiations in February 1990, the East
European participants had agreed to this proposal. The Soviet Union, on
the other hand, sought to exclude large areas of its. territory from the
observation flights for "national security reasons." It also sought to
limit the duration of observation flights and to require that flights
over some areas, such as nuclear power plants and densely populated
urban areas, occur at a minimum altitude of 10,000 feet.12 When the
negotiations resumed in November 1991 (after the failed coup in Moscow),
the Soviet Union announced that it would accept full territorial
coverage if flights over Soviet territory were conducted with Soviet
aircraft carrying Soviet sensors.13 This would allow Soviet officials
to confirm that observation aircraft were not carrying unauthorized
sensors that could collect sensitive information. Although the other
participants preferred to use their own aircraft in observation flights,
they accepted this compromise.
Flight Distances and Airfields
According to the Treaty, to ensure that observation flights cover
the entire territory of participating nations, each party to the Treaty
must specify the location of air fields that observation flights can
originate from and the maximum distance that flights from these
airfields can travel. Every part of the participant's territory must be
accessible to a flight that originates from one of the airfields and
travels no more than the specified maximum distance.
The United States has designated Travis Air Force Base in
California, Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, Dulles International
Airport outside Washington D.C. and Lincoln Municipal Airport in
Nebraska as its Open Skies airfields. The maximum distance for flights
originating at Travis and Elmendorf Air Force bases are 4,000 kilometers
(2,455 miles) and 3,000 kilometers (1,841 miles), respectively. The
maximum distance for flights originating at Dulles and Lincoln Municipal
airports are 4,900 kilometers (3,007 miles) and 4,800 kilometers (2,946
miles), respectively. Travis Air Force Base and Dulles International
Airport will also serve as the Points of Entry for Open Skies aircraft
and crews that come to the United States for inspections. All flights
must land at these facilities first, even if they plan to conduct their
observation flights from other Open Skies Airfields.14
The Open Skies Treaty specifies that a nation seeking to conduct an
observation flight must inform the observed nation of its intentions 72
hours before the observation team arrives at the Point of Entry (Dulles
or Travis AFB, in the U.S.). This notice is designed to ensure that the
host country has enough time before the observation begins to suspend
any sensitive military exercises or activities that it would not want
observed during the flight. The observation flight can begin as soon as
24 hours after the observation team arrives in the host country. Because
the host nation will not know precisely which areas will be covered by
the observation flight until the team arrives at the point of entry, it
would not have enough time to conceal large formations or concentrations
of military forces in that area. The observation flight must also
conclude no longer than 96 hours after the team arrives at the Point of
Entry. This is designed to ensure that the visits do not disrupt
exercises or activities in the host country for an undue amount of time.
The Treaty states that an observation team must present the host
with its mission plan when it arrives at the Point of Entry. This
document indicates what area of the host nation's territory will be
covered by the flight. It must specify such details as the airfields the
flight will use, the starting time and duration of the flight, the
distance the flight will travel, and a flight plan that specifies the
route and altitude for the flight.15 The host nation can propose
changes to the mission plan, for example, if weather conditions would
affect flight safety, but it cannot deny the observation team access to
any area of its territory. The two parties must agree on a plan within 8
hours of the time when the observation team arrives at the Point of
The Open Skies Treaty specifies that Open Skies observation flights
will take precedence over regular air traffic in the air traffic control
system. If another aircraft plans to fly along the same route at the
same time as the Open Skies aircraft, the other aircraft must alter its
route. This is because a change in flight path or altitude of the Open
Skies aircraft could enhance or degrade the sensors operating on the
aircraft and, therefore, undermine the objectives of the observation
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has stated that
giving precedence to Open Skies aircraft will pose no threat or
inconvenience to civil air traffic in the United States.16 It
frequently gives precedence to specified aircraft -- such as the
President's airplane, Air Force One -- without passengers on other
aircraft knowing that their altitude or flight path has been altered. In
addition, the Air Force has concluded a formal agreement with the FAA
that establishes a policy for giving precedence to Open Skies flights.
According to the Air Force, these policies worked well during numerous
Open Skies training and demonstration flights.17
The Open Skies Treaty contains several provisions to ensure that
observation flights due not pose an undue burden on the host nation. For
example, nations can be subject to only one observation flight at a
time. This limit precludes both excessive demands on the personnel who
must implement the Open Skies provisions and an unacceptable burden on
national air traffic control system when it manages the flights of the
aircraft. The Treaty also specifies that an observation flight can not
pass repeatedly over the same spot or circle around a single area. This
precludes efforts to focus too much attention on a single facility or
ANNUAL QUOTAS FOR OBSERVATION FLIGHTS
The Open Skies Treaty lists the number of flights that each nation
must accept over its territory each year -- a passive quota. The
passive quota is generally related to the size of a nation's territory.
Each nation also has an active quota -- a number of flights that it can
conduct each year. The Treaty specifies that no nation will be allowed
to conduct more flights over other nations' territory than it is
required to receive over its own territory; i.e. the active quota for a
nation cannot exceed the passive quota for that nation.18 The Open
Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC) is charged with allocating the
flights among the participating nations -- i.e. each year it prepares a
list that specifies who will conduct flights over whom. The treaty
states that, when the OSCC allocates fights, no nation may conduct more
than half of the flights permitted by its active quota over the
territory of one single party to the treaty and no nation must receive a
number of observation flights from a single nation that equals more than
half of the flights required by its passive quota.
Determining Passive and Active Quotas
Prior to the Open Skies negotiations, analysts in the U.S. Defense
Department and the intelligence community concluded that, with
sufficient notice, the United States could host one observation flight
per week without putting sensitive military activities and facilities at
risk.19 Hence, when the negotiations began in 1990, the United States
indicated that it would be willing to accept 52 observation flights per
year over U.S. territory. Because the Soviet Union had more than twice
the land mass of the United States, the United States proposed that the
Soviet Union accept 110 observation flights per year. In response, the
Soviet Union proposed that each alliance -- NATO and the Warsaw Pact --
host 30 flights per year, with no more than half the flights occurring
over any one nation in the alliance.
When the participants abandoned efforts to devise a treaty between
the two opposing alliances in late 1990, the United States accepted a
NATO proposal to allocate quotas for observation flights on a national
basis. At that time, the United States suggested that the Soviet Union
accept 52 flights per year, as the United States was willing to do. The
Soviet Union refused, but it did raise the number of flights it was
willing to receive from 15 to 25. After the abortive coup in Moscow in
1991, the Soviet Union agreed to accept 52 flights per year. After the
December 1991 demise of the Soviet Union, Russia stated that it would
accept 40 flights per year, based on its relative size compared to the
Soviet Union.20 The negotiators reached agreement at 42 flights per
year for the United States and Russia. (Russia has formed a group with
Belarus, so these 42 flights will cover both of those two nations.) The
other participants will receive between 4 and 12 flights per year,
depending on the size of their territories.
Allocation of Observation Flights Among the Parties
Open Skies observation flights will be allocated on an annual basis
by the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC). Each of the parties to
the treaty will submit a list of the observation flights it wishes to
conduct during the coming year. If the parties request more flights over
a particular nation than allowed by that nation's passive quota, the
OSCC will divide the number of permitted flights among the requesting
parties. As a result, all participants may not be able to conduct all of
their requested flights. At the same time, the treaty permits two or
more nations to join together on observation flights and essentially
"share" the passive quota of observed nation. This will allow nations to
participate in more observation flights without exceeding the passive
quota of the observed nation. In addition, all parties to the Open Skies
Treaty can purchase data collected during any nation's observation
flights. Hence, all nations will have access to information about the
other parties' military forces and activities, even if they do not
conduct their own observation flights.
Passive and Active Quotas for the United States
The Open Skies Treaty gives the United States a passive quota, and
therefore, an active quota, of 42 observation flights per year. These
are the maximum number of flights the United States could conduct or
receive each year. However, when nations requested flights for the
first year of treaty implementation, only one party to the treaty -- the
group of Russia and Belarus -- requested flights over the United States.
And this group requested only 4 flights over the United States. The
United States submitted a request for its maximum permitted number of
flights over other parties, but it requested flights over many of the
same nations that other participants wanted to visit. As a result, when
the OSCC allocated flights for the first year of treaty implementation,
the United States received only 8 flights -- over Russia and Belarus.
It will also conduct one flight jointly with Canada over Ukraine.
Because the OSCC will reallocate flights each year that the treaty
remains in force, the United States may be granted a greater number of
its requested flights in future years.
The Open Skies Treaty specifies that observation flights must be
conducted by unarmed, fixed-wing aircraft. These aircraft can be
provided by either the observing party or the observed party, if the
observed party requests to use its own plane. The parties cannot use
helicopters for their observation flights.
During the negotiations, the United States and NATO proposed that
the nation conducting the observation flight provide the aircraft for
the flight. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, proposed that the
nation hosting the observation flight provide its own aircraft, or that
all nations rely on the same fleet of dedicated Open Skies aircraft.21
This proposal reflected Soviet concerns about the quality of data that
could be collected by aircraft using Western sensor technologies and
Soviet concerns about the possible presence of illicit sensors on
observation aircraft. The participants from Eastern Europe also sought
a common pool of aircraft because they did not want to rely on Soviet
technology for the observation flights. The United States and NATO
argued, however, that a common pool of aircraft would be costly and
difficult to maintain. Nonetheless, they agreed that the Soviet Union
could provide its own aircraft for flights over Soviet territory in
exchange for Soviet agreement to open all its territory to observation
flights. In addition, nations can borrow or lease aircraft from other
parties to the treaty so that all parties can conduct Open Skies
observation flights even if they cannot afford their own aircraft.
The United States is planning to equip 3 aircraft specifically for
Open Skies observation flights. The first is already operational; it is
based at Offut Air Force base in Nebraska and is used to conduct testing
and training flights for Open Skies personnel. Once the treaty enters
into force, this aircraft will be used for training flights and as a
backup aircraft for observation flights. The other two aircraft will
reach full operational capability during 1996. The first is currently
conducting ground tests and should be delivered to the Air Force by
early Spring 1996; the second will be delivered later in the year.
Open Skies aircraft can be equipped with four types of sensors:
optical panoramic and framing cameras (cameras for still photography)
with a ground resolution of 30 centimeters (around 1 foot); video
cameras with a ground resolution of 30 centimeters (around 1 foot);
infrared line-scanning devices with a ground resolution of 50
centimeters (around 20 inches); and sideways-looking synthetic aperture
radars (SARs) with a ground resolution of 3 meters (around 8 feet).
According to U.S. officials, these sensors will be able "to recognize
major pieces of military equipment. This has been characterized, for
example, as the ability to tell the difference between a tank and a
truck... This level of capability is not sufficiently detailed to reveal
technical information about the major items of equipment, nor would it
permit identification of particular models of a category of equipment in
The United States and NATO initially proposed that the Open Skies
Treaty impose no restrictions on the capabilities of the Open Skies
sensors, with the exception of a ban on "signals intelligence" sensors
that could eavesdrop on electronic communications.23 The sensors that
NATO wanted to employ 'including still and video cameras, infrared line
scanning devices, synthetic aperture radars, spectrometers and
air-sampling devices -- would have permitted the collection of both
photographic data on visible activities and scientific data on
activities inside facilities (such as the manufacture of chemical
agents). The Soviet Union, on the other hand, wanted the treaty to
permit only optical cameras. The United States, NATO, and Eastern
European participants rejected the Soviet approach because it would have
severely limited the quantity and quality of information collected
during the observation flights. The Soviet Union eventually agreed that
the participants could use infrared sensors and synthetic aperture
radars; in exchange, NATO dropped its proposal for the use of a wider
variety of sensors.24
During the negotiations, the participants also disagreed about the
resolution that would be permitted on the sensors and determining the
level of detail the data would show. NATO proposed that optical cameras
provide a ground resolution of 7.5 centimeters (about 3 inches); the
Soviet Union suggested 30 centimeters (about 1 foot). For the synthetic
aperture radar,25 NATO sought a resolution of 3 meters (about 8 feet);
the Soviet Union suggested 10 meters (about 30 feet). The two sides
eventually agreed to use the Soviet proposal for optical cameras and the
NATO proposal for SARs.26
The Open Skies Treaty specifies the sensors must be derived from
"off-the-shelf' technology available to all the parties. This responds
to the Eastern European nations' concerns about being at a disadvantage
if they had to rely on Russian technology for their data collection.
Off-the-shelf sensors may collect a lower quality of data than the
state-of-the-art technologies NATO had hoped to use. At the same time,
the use of off-the-shelf technology made it possible for all nations to
share the data collected by any nation during an observation flight.
The treaty contains a provision that allows the parties to approve
the use of improved sensors and additional types of sensors on
observation flights. This provision not only allows the participants to
take advantage of technological advances, but would allow them to expand
the objectives of the treaty into areas such as monitoring air quality
for environmental protection. The Open Skies Consultative Commission
would have to approve proposals for new sensors; if any participant
objected, the sensors would not be used.
The treaty contains several provisions to address concerns about the
possible presence of unauthorized sensors on board Open Skies Aircraft.
First, at Russian insistence, the treaty permits any nation to request
that its own aircraft be used for observation flights. Second, the
treaty permits the nation hosting the observation flight to fully
inspect the observing nation's aircraft to ensure that it does not carry
covert sensors and to conduct calibration exercises to ensure that
sensors do not have capabilities in excess of those permitted by the
treaty. Finally, when the nation conducting the observation flight
prepares its mission plan, it must make sure that the aircraft's
altitude throughout the flight, when combined with the calibration of
the sensors, is consistent with the limits on sensor resolution; cameras
would have better resolution if the aircraft flew closer to the ground.
The original 25 signatories of the Open Skies Treaty include all of
the members of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, along with Russia,
Ukraine, and Belarus from the former Soviet Union. The other newly
independent states from the former Soviet Union, including the Baltic
states, can join the pact at any time; Georgia and Kyrgyzstan have
already done so. All other European nations who are members of the
Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe can apply to join the
treaty during the first six months after the treaty enters into force.
The Open Skies treaty also contains provisions to expand beyond
Europe, the United States, and Canada. After the treaty has been in
force for six months, the Open Skies Consultative Commission can
consider a request to join from any other nation that it considers able
to contribute to the objectives of the treaty. Because the OSCC must
make its decisions by consensus, a nation's application to join the
treaty will be rejected if any one of the current participants objects.
CURRENT STATUS AND IMPLEMENTATION PLANS
STATUS OF TREATY RATIFICATION
President Bush presented the Open Skies Treaty to the United States
Senate on August 12, 1992. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held
hearings on the Treaty in September 1992 and March 1993. The Senate
Armed Services and Intelligence Committees also reviewed the treaty. The
full Senate gave its consent to ratification of the Treaty in August
1993. The United States officially ratified the treaty on November 3,
In their reports, the three Senate committees that reviewed the
treaty highlighted several concerns about the costs of implementation
and the possible implications for U.S. security. All three were
concerned about the cost of a fleet of three fully-equipped aircraft,
which the Department of Defense believed it needed to conduct all 42
observation flights each year. The committees noted that the United
States would collect little new information during these flights and,
therefore, might not need to conduct 42 flights.27 The committees also
expressed concerns about the addition of new sensors to Open Skies
aircraft; they noted that these sensors might not only add to the costs
of Open Skies implementation but might also eventually put U.S. national
security at risk.28
The Senate attached two conditions to its resolution of ratification
for the Open Skies Treaty. First, the Senate found that "United States
interests may not require the utilization of the full quota of allowed
observation flights or the procurement of more than one or two
observation aircraft."29 As a result, the Senate called on the President
to submit a report after the first year of treaty implementation that
reviewed the operation of the Treaty and provided an analysis estimating
the number of annual observation flights and aircraft that the United
States would need for the duration of the Treaty. Second, the
resolution stated that the President should provide the Senate with
prompt notification of proposed improvements to Open Skies sensors and
should not provide U.S. approval to the proposed changes until 30 days
after the Senate received the notification.30 This time period would
presumably be used to assess the costs of the new sensors and possible
implications for U.S. security.
Ratification by Other Parties
The Open Skies Treaty has been ratified by all the participants
except Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Reports indicate that the delay in
these three nations can be attributed to their concerns about the cost
of implementation. Each of these nations is facing economic difficulties
and officials in all three nations have complained about the costs of
implementing arms control agreements, such as the Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty (START I) and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe
Treaty (CFE). The treaty cannot enter into force until these parties
approve its ratification.
PLANNING FOR IMPLEMENTATION IN THE U.S.
Policy decisions affecting the implementation of the Open Skies
Treaty will be addressed in an interagency committee with
representatives from the Department of Defense, the Department of State,
the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the intelligence
community.31 This group will address questions about a number of
issues, including the number of observation flights the United States
should request over specific nations and the areas of those nations that
should be covered by each flight.
The United States Air Force and the On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA)
will take the lead in implementing Open Skies observation flights for
the United States. The Air Force will own, operate, and maintain the
U.S. Open Skies Aircraft. Representatives from OSIA will operate the
sensors during U.S. observation flights and participate as escorts and
observers in observation flights other nations conduct over U.S.
Open Skies Aircraft
The United States had initially planned to deploy 3 fully
operational observation aircraft to support 42 observation flights per
year. However, in response to congressional concerns about the cost of
these aircraft, the Air Force now plans to outfit only two aircraft with
the full suite of sensors needed to conduct observation flights. The
third aircraft, which is currently conducting testing and training
flights for Open Skies personnel, is equipped with only the optical
cameras permitted by the treaty. It will not be modified to carry the
infrared sensor or synthetic aperture radar.
The United States Air Force, which will operate the Open Skies
Aircraft, is modifying existing C-135 airplanes for the Open Skies
mission. Similar in size to civilian 707 aircraft, these modified 0C-135
airplanes will seat 38 people, including the Air Force flight crew and
maintenance crew, representatives from the country that is hosting the
U.S. observation flight, and crew members from the On-site Inspection
Agency who will help with mission planning and operate the aircraft's
sensors. Because the Air Force has decided to modify existing aircraft,
there will be no expense associated with the purchase of new aircraft.
Nonetheless, the Air Force is spending around $62 million to equip the
aircraft with sensors and other equipment needed for Open Skies
observation flights. It also plans to spend an additional $7.3 million
on research and development for new sensors and integration of sensors
Trial and Training Flights
The United States has conducted numerous training and trial flights
with its Open Skies Aircraft. Crews assigned to the aircraft at Offut
Air Force Base conduct, on average, two training flights per month to
maintain their proficiency in operating the aircraft. U.S. crews have
also participated in trial flights to certify that the aircraft and
sensors operate in accordance with U.S. and treaty requirements and to
support ongoing OSCC discussions about procedures that will be used
during official observation flights.32
The United States has also conducted several flights in cooperation
with other parties to the treaty. These flights carry participants from
both nations and are used to test the procedures for mission planning
and mission implementation. Most of the training flights over U.S. and
foreign territory have used the U.S. Open Skies aircraft. However, in
June 1995, the German Open Skies aircraft conducted trial flights over
U.S. territory. This was the first time that a foreign military aircraft
had ever had unrestricted access to U.S. airspace. The U.S. Air Force
had planned to conduct up to 15 missions with the Open Skies aircraft in
1995 (in addition to the average of two training flights per month).
This number is likely to decline to around 10 missions in 1996, in part
due to reductions in the Air Force arms control budget.33
When the treaty enters into force, the Department of Defense has
estimated that it might cost the United States $20-25 million per year
to conduct and host observation flights. Some have estimated that it
could cost the United States $25,000-$35,000 to host an Open Skies
observation flight and $165,000-$170,000 to conduct an observation
flight using the U.S. aircraft.34 These are primarily the costs of
training and employing the personnel needed to operate the aircraft and
the sensors and the actual costs of flying the aircraft.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE UNITED STATES
Most analysts and observers agree that the Open Skies Treaty can
play a valuable role as a confidence building measure among the nations
of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact. At the same time, some have
questioned U.S. participation in the Open Skies regime. These questions
have focused on two key areas: the value of the information the United
States might collect during Open Skies observation flights and the cost
to U.S. security of the information that others might collect during
flights over U.S. territory.
VALUE OF INFORMATION
Several analysts and some members of Congress have noted that the
United States does not need to bear the costs of equipping and operating
Open Skies aircraft to acquire information about the military forces and
activities of other nations. It already operates expensive
photoreconnaissance satellites that serve the same purpose. Some have
proposed, therefore, that the United States conduct few observation
flights and limit its participation in the treaty.35
Most supporters of the Open Skies regime have acknowledged that the
United States will not acquire much new information during its Open
Skies observation flights. Nonetheless, as Ambassador John Hawes, the
U.S. representative to the Open Skies Conference, noted during his
testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
For most of the other participants, however, the ability to utilize the
Open Skies sensor suite to observe the full territory of the other
participating countries will represent a new and very significant
enhancement in their ability to gather security-related information. The
United States will ... be a major indirect beneficiary of this increase
in knowledge, confidence, and security of the participants.36
The treaty's supporters have also noted that the United States might
acquire information during Open Skies observation flights that is more
useful than satellite data for international relations purposes. For
example, the United States is often wary of releasing satellite
photographs that could reveal secret information about U.S. satellite
capabilities. But similar information acquired during Open Skies flights
could be used in the international arena.37
Although most analysts acknowledge that Russia, like the United
States, does not need to participate in the Open Skies Treaty to collect
information about military forces and activities in the United States,
some have expressed concerns that nations who currently lack access to
satellite data could use Open Skies observation flights to collect
sensitive information about the U.S. military or U.S. industry. Some
have also expressed concern about the possibility that treaty
participants could transfer information collected during Open Skies
observation flights to others, including rogue nations or terrorists,
who might use the information in planning operations against the United
States. These concerns would be heightened if the Open Skies regime
allowed the use of more sophisticated sensors or if the treaty were
expanded to permit participation by nations who remain hostile to the
Officials from both the Bush and Clinton Administrations insisted
during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that
information collected during Open Skies flights would not place U.S.
national security at risk.38 A number of factors would limit these
nations' ability to collect sensitive information. For example, the
treaty requires advance notice before flights begin and prohibits
flights from circling or returning to a specific area repeatedly during
the flight.39 The advance notice would allow the United States to cease
any sensitive activities before an observation flight began. The ban on
repeat visits during a single flight would complicate an observing
nation's effort to focus extra attention on a single facility or
U.S. officials have also emphasized that the resolution of sensors
permitted by the Open Skies Treaty will not be sufficient to allow the
collection of sensitive intelligence about U.S. military forces and
activities.40 The sensors will lack the capability to identify the
capabilities of weapons systems or the types of activities occurring in
closed structures. In addition, information about the size and location
of most major military installations in the United States is already
available to the public at large. Because the Open Skies observation
flights would not provide any additional information about activities
occurring inside buildings, the flights would do little to help those
seeking targets for attack in the United States. Finally, it is unlikely
that the Open Skies Treaty would expand to include any nation that might
use Open Skies data to threaten a current participant. The Open Skies
Consultative Commission must approve all applications for admission. If
any one of the current parties to the treaty objects to an applicant,
the OSCC would have to reject the application.
The primary benefits of the Open Skies Treaty will accrue to its
European participants. These nations will not only be able to acquire
information about military forces and activities in neighboring nations,
they will also be able to collect this information themselves, without
relying on the observation satellites of other nations.
Some observers believe the United States should limit its
participation in the Open Skies regime to reduce the costs of equipping
and operating observation aircraft. However, even if the United States
reduces its own participation, it must remain willing to host up to 42
observation flights from other countries each year. If the first year's
plans are any indication, this should not create an undue burden; only
Russia and Belarus showed an interest in conducting flights over U.S.
territory and they only requested 4 flights.
Still, if the Open Skies Treaty remains in force for many years, the
United States could host dozens of visits by other participants, with
foreign military aircraft equipped with sensors flying over U.S.
territory. Virtually all observers agree that these flights will pose no
security threat to the United States.
PARTIES TO THE TREATY ON OPEN SKIES
NATO Members Eastern European
United States Russia
Canada Czech Republic (a)
Denmark Georgia (b)
Italy Slovak Republic
(a) The Czech and Slovak Republics each signed after they separated on
Jan. 1, 1993.
(b) Georgia signed m 1992.
(c) Kyrgyzstan signed in February 1993.
1 The parties to the treaty are listed in the Table at the end of the
report. The text of the Treaty can be found in U.S. Congress, Senate,
Treaty on Open Skies, Message from the President of the United States,
Treaty Doc. 102-37, Washington, 1992.
2 U.S. Congress, Senate, Commity on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies Hearing, 102d Congress, 2nd Session. September 22, 1992.
Washington, GPO, 1992, p. 40.
3 U.S. Congress, Senate, The Treaty on Open Skies. Message from the
President of the United States, 102d Congress, 2nd Session. Washington,
GPO, 1992, p. viii.
4 Remarks at the Texas A&M University Commencement Ceremony in College
Station, Texas, May 12, 1989. Weekly Compilation of Presidential
Documents, v. 25, May 22, 1989. p. 702.
5 The United States won the support of its NATO allies in consultations
in August 1989; Canada took a particularly active role in advancing the
negotiations. See Tucker, Jonathan B. Back to the Future: The Open Skies
Talks. Arms Control Today, v. 20, October 1990. p. 21.
6 See the prepared statement of Ambassador John Hawes in U.S. Congress.
Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open Sides. Report
103-5, 103d Congress, Ist Session. Washington, G.P.O., 1993. p. 157.
7 U.S. Congress. Senate. Treaty on Open Skies. Message from the
President of the United States. p. vii.
8 U.S. Congress. Senate. Treaty on Open Skies. Message from the
President of the United States. p. vii.
9 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Hearing, 102d Congress, 2nd Session. September 22, 1992.
Washington, G.P.O., 1992. p. 39.
10 In the arms control context, these satellites are known as "national
technical means" of verification (NTM).
11 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Hearing, September 22, 1992. p. 4.
12 For a description of the opening negotiating positions on Open Skies,
see Tucker, Jonathan B. Back to the Future: The Open Skies Talks. Arms
Control Today, v. 20, October 1990. pp. 21-23.
13 See the prepared statement of Michael L. Moodie in U.S. Congress.
Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open Skies. Hearing,
September 22, 1992. p. 9.
14 Open Skies aircraft can also land at Honolulu International airport,
Malmstrom Air Force Base, Phoenix-Sky Harbor Airport in Arizona, General
Mitchell International in Wisconsin, and McGhee Tyson airport in
Tennessee if they need to refuel.
15 Thomson, David B. The Treaty on Open Skies. Briefing, Center for
National Security Studies, Los Alamos National Laboratory v. 5, July
1994. p. 15.
16 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Hearing. p. 61.
17 Discussion with Air Force National Security Negotiations Division,
October 18, 1995.
18 There is no requirement in the treaty for the actual number of
flights conducted by a nation to be equal to the number conducted over
its territory. The actual number of flights will depend on the requests
of the other participants. If few participants seek flights over a
nation's territory, so that its passive quota is not fulfilled, that
nation can still conduct the full number of flights permitted by its
19 Tucker, Back To the Future: The Open Skies Talks, p. 21.
20 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Hearings. p. 40.
21 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Hearing. p. 42.
22 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Hearing. p. 44.
23 Tucker, Back to the Future: The Open Skies Talks, Arms Control Today,
v. 20, October 1990, p. 23.
24 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Hearing. p. 41.
25 A synthetic aperture radar is capable of looking "around" clouds and,
therefore, can collect data regardless of weather conditions on the
26 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Hearing. p. 41.
27 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Report 103-5. p. 15.
28 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Report 103-5. p. 14.
29 The Resolution of Ratification in reprinted in Congressional Record,
v. 139, August 2, 1993. p. S10106.
30 Congressional Record, v. 139, August 2, 1993. p. S10106.
31 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Hearing. p. 62.
32 Discussions with the Air Force National Security Negotiations Branch,
October, 18, 1995.
33 Information provided by the On-site Inspection Agency, October 20,
34 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Report, 103-5. pp. 170-172.
35 This point is made in the report of the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence. See U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations.
Treaty on Open Skies. Report 103-5. p. 137.
36 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open
Skies. Report 103-5. p. 157.
37 See the prepared statement of Thomas Karas, Office of Technology
Assessment, in U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations.
Treaty on Open Skies. Hearing. p. 35.
38 According to Brig. Gen. Teddy E. Rhinebarger, who represented the
Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Senate hearings, '... the scope of the Open
Skies regime was carefully considered, and the overflight access Open
Skies provides does not place sensitive facilities at risk." see U.S.
Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Treaty on Open Skies.
Hearing. p. 16.
39 See the prepared statement of Thomas Karas in U.S. Congress. Senate.
Committee on Foreign Relations. 'Treaty on Open Skies. Hearing. p. 33.
40 "The resolution limit of 30 centimeters for optical sensors
establishes a level of intrusiveness commensurate with the Treaty's goal
of openness and transparency in military forces and activities while
effectively safeguarding legitimate national security interests." See
U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Treaty on Open
Skies, Hearing. p. 44.