JBER plays important role in the Open Skies Treaty

  • Published
  • By Thomas Warren
  • 673d Air Base Wing Treaty Compliance Office
If you've heard the term "open skies" in your time here on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, you may have wondered what the heck it is and heard several explanations.

The Open Skies Treaty was signed March 24, 1992, in Helsinki, Finland, and entered into force on Jan. 1, 2002. It promotes openness and transparency in military activities through unarmed observation flights. Designed to enhance confidence and security, the treaty gives each state party the right to gather information about the military forces and activities of other state parties.

First proposed to the (former) Soviet Union by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955, the Open Skies concept lay dormant until proposed again by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 just as the Cold War ended. Negotiations began in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in September 1989 between member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the former Warsaw Pact.

The treaty charges the Open Skies Consultative Commission to assign the maximum number of observation flights that each state party must accept annually. For example, the U.S. is obligated to accept up to 42 flights per year, as is the Russian Federation.

State parties must submit their observation flight requests for each coming year to all other state parties and the OSCC. For calendar year 2014, the Russian Federation will fly five observation flights over the U.S., whereas for 2013 it flew a total of nine.

In November 1992, Bush assigned responsibility for overall management, leadership, coordination and support for U.S. Open Skies missions to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. DTRA personnel perform a variety of tasks in support of foreign observation flights, including escorting teams flying over U.S. territory and observation mission planning. They also conduct pre-flight inspections of foreign observation aircraft, ensuring sensors are treaty-compliant.

Under the treaty, the U.S. manages two points of entry and exit - Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia for the East Coast and Travis Air Force Base, Calif., for the West Coast - and four Open Skies airfields: Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; McConnell AFB, Kan.; Travis AFB, Calif.; and JBER. In the event that the JBER runways are out of service, Ted Stevens International Airport, in Anchorage, is identified as JBER's alternate airfield.

JBER is also a gateway for U.S. observation missions entering into Eastern Russia. The U.S. team of aircrew and maintenance members from Offutt AFB, Neb., and DTRA personnel from Andrews AFB, Va., come to JBER in the Open Skies aircraft. The team arrives four days prior to going into Russia to complete mission planning, receive weather briefs and crew rest prior to week-long missions in Russia. JBER is the team's first stop upon returning from Russia for customs, crew rest and aircraft servicing before going back to the Washington, D.C., area.

The 673d Air Base Wing Treaty Compliance Office manages the Treaty on Open Skies and other arms-control treaties and agreements.

One of the primary objectives of the JBER Treaty Office is operational security. In coordination with JBER OPSEC managers, the goal is to spread the word when the base hosts an Open Skies mission on JBER. Per the treaty and U.S. guidance, the foreign teams have access to our dining facilities, commercial eating establishments, Base Exchange and commissary. Getting the word out and making people aware helps us maintain our OPSEC awareness while foreign visitors are on our turf.

For more information about Open Skies or unit briefs on treaty compliance, contact the TCO at 551-2891.