The US Air Force (USAF) is retiring its two OC-135B Open Skies aircraft, with the first, #61-2672, making the final flight this week. According to Alert5, the other OC-135B, #61-2670, will be retired on Jun. 4, 2021. The aircraft will be retired to the boneyard after the US withdrew from the treaty late last year, even though it’s not clear whether the new Biden administration will rejoin the monitoring agreement with Russia, Air Force Magazine reported.
Because there is no longer “a mission requirement for the OC-135B, the Department of the Air Force has moved to initiate standard equipment disposition actions in accordance with regulations,” an Air Force spokesperson said in a statement. This includes sending the two aircraft from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)—also known as the boneyard—at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
The Air Force is considering what to do with the legacy wet-film cameras and the Digital Visual Imaging System off the aircraft. An Air Force spokesperson said that “This could include making the items available to allies and partners through the Foreign Military Sales program as appropriate.”
The aircraft are assigned to Air Combat Command at the 55 Wing, 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., for operations, training and maintenance. When tasked, ACC ‘s role is to transport a DTRA observation team to an Open Skies point of entry airport, and conduct the observation flight, then return the team to the continental US.
Three OC-135Bs were modified by the Aeronautical Systems Center’s 4950th Test Wing at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. The first initial operational capability (IOC) OC-135B was assigned to the 24th Reconnaissance Squadron, at Offutt AFB, Neb., in October 1993. The IOC aircraft was placed in permanent storage at Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis Monthan AFB, Ariz. Two fully operational OC-135B aircraft were delivered in 1996. The aircraft are modified WC-135Bs. Since its primary mission is to take pictures, most of the installed equipment and systems provide direct support to the cameras and the camera operator. Work on the aircraft also included installing an auxiliary power unit, crew luggage compartment, sensor operator console, flight following console and upgraded avionics. The USAF in recent years worked to update the aircraft’s cameras, and in 2020 canceled plans to recapitalize the fleet.
In 2018, the State Department declared Russia was in violation of the treaty for preventing access to Kaliningrad and the border with Georgia. The USAF did not fly any sorties at the time, but resumed flights in 2019.
Before the Trump administration formally withdrew from the treaty in November 2020, US officials repeatedly complained that Moscow violated the agreement, claiming also that satellite systems could provide better surveillance than the aging aircraft.
Photo credit: Dmitry Terekhov from Odintsovo, Russian Federation via Wikipedia
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