The US surveillance planes used to openly monitor Russian forces are nearing the end of their service life- and there seem to be no plans to replace them.
The OC-135B Open Skies observation aircraft fleet is comprised of two repurposed WC-135 Constant Phoenix weather planes, which are based off the Boeing 707 platform and were ordered in the early 1960s.
Created in response to the 1990s Open Skies treaty, which allows scheduled unarmed surveillance flights over 34 nation-states, with the two major players involved being the United States and Russia.
Despite the fact that most surveillance is now done from space, the OC-135s continue to fly on their scheduled missions, which isn’t terribly often.
Last week, the USAF deployed one of the OC-135s over the Ukraine at Kiev’s request, with American, Canadian, German, French, Romanian and British observers all along for the ride to inspect Russian troops massing along the Russia-Ukraine border, mere weeks after Russian military forces illegally seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels.
According to the National Interest, the OC-135s are in terrible shape, with barely-functioning lavatories, high risk of mechanical failure and neither aircraft -known as 61-2670 and 61-2672- have a failure rate lower than 20 percent in the time span between August of 2015 to July of 2016.
Truth be told, very few people on Capitol Hill care for the OC-135s, and have repeatedly shut down a $430 million request for upgrades, seeing the Open Skies mission as a vestigial operation that isn’t worth funding.
“The Open Skies treaty doesn’t benefit the United States,” one House Armed Services Committee aide told National Interest on the condition of anonymity.
While some in the Pentagon and the US State Department disagree with Congress’ opinion on the Open Skies fleet, it doesn’t look like the OC-135s will be relieved any time soon.
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