Disgraceful Deep State Pushes Trump to Close the Open Skies
Once again, President Trump is being played by the Deep State.
The permanent bureaucracy that inhabits Washington, D.C. — the Cold War 2.0 crowd — is about to paint Trump, and America, into a bad corner.
It’s all about a treaty with Russia that most people have never heard of.
But this is absolutely a matter of war and peace.
Let’s discuss this here at your Whiskey Bar…
Last week word broke that President Trump wants to withdraw the U.S. from the “Open Skies” treaty with Russia.
Your first response may be, “The what treaty?” And that’s kind of the point.
Hardly anyone knows what it is, aside from military insiders and policy wonks.
As The New York Times explains, the Open Skies treaty was “negotiated three decades ago to allow nations to fly over each other’s territory with elaborate sensor equipment to assure that they are not preparing for military action.”1
Put another way, the goal of Open Skies is to improve military transparency and reduce the risk of war.
Basically, it allows nations to fly reconnaissance aircraft over other countries to take photos and count the troops, tanks, ships and such. If something looks amiss, the diplomats can ask for explanations, talk with each other and work things out.
It’s not just a treaty between the U.S. and Russia. Open Skies is a pact between 35 signatory nations.2 Those include all other NATO members; neutral Sweden and Finland; Eastern European nations formerly in the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War; and several states that evolved out of the former Soviet Union: Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan.
So Open Skies covers a large fraction of the world’s dry land. Many nations. Over a billion people.
Here’s the map…
Nations subject to Open Skies Treaty3
I don’t think President Trump has any particular knowledge of the Open Skies treaty. He’s apparently just doing what devious Deep Staters are advising.
Frankly, I’m surprised that Trump is taking Deep State advice, certainly on Russia and especially on something this important. After all, hasn’t the Deep State given Trump enough grief, what with the whole Russia-Russia-Russia thing?
Still, it looks like they’ve convinced Trump to walk away.
Maybe they successfully shamed him for acknowledging Russia’s help in World War II, as I’ve discussed before.
The question is, why?
To be perfectly clear, the Open Skies treaty doesn’t give a nation carte blanche to buzz over its neighbors on a whim.
Say, for instance, Russia wants to count U.S. bombers, or check out activities at a nuclear lab.
Per the treaty, Russia notifies U.S. authorities of a mission and identifies intended routes. In turn, the U.S. is obliged to clear the airspace and make way for the Russian airplane.
The treaty requires U.S. personnel to ride inside the Russian aircraft to monitor overall activities and legal compliance. As things have evolved, the U.S. has imposed airspace restrictions in Alaska and Hawaii.
Still, critics argue that Open Skies gives Russia “too much” access to the U.S. via overflights. In recent years, its surveillance aircraft have flown over highly secure U.S. submarine bases, nuclear laboratories, Area 51, the Nevada Test Site and even the U.S. Capitol and White House.
Give Russia credit. Its leadership and military have long focused on intelligence gathering; certainly since the Napoleonic invasion in 1812. Suffice to say that Russia is very good at intel operations.
And not surprisingly, Russia devotes significant resources to its Open Skies program. In fact, Russia owns several brand-new Tupolev Tu-214ON — aircraft designed from the inside-out to conduct surveillance over the U.S. and other nations. Here’s a photo.
Russian Tu-214ON, purpose-built for Open Skies4
Don’t be fooled by the spiffy “airliner” look, with passenger windows and shiny paint. Inside this Tupolev are highly sophisticated cameras, radar and other electronic systems. This is an intel bird, through and through.
Russian personnel who conduct Open Skies flights are among the best in that country’s military, too. The best pilots, technical operators, intelligence analysts and more. Every mission is carefully planned at the highest levels of Russia’s General Staff, with specific tasking to gather specific kinds of information.
Indeed, if a Russian Open Skies bird roars over your head, it calls to mind the old phrase, “There are no accidents, comrade.” It’s up there with a specific purpose in mind.
And what of the U.S.?
You’d think the U.S. would approach an important treaty like Open Skies with utmost seriousness.
After all, this treaty gives us an open ticket to overfly Russia. This has been a top-level U.S. intelligence goal since World War II, and then throughout the Cold War.
So our U.S. reconnaissance airplanes are probably just super-duper. They must buzz to-and-fro across Russia, taking pictures and gathering all manner of important intel, right?
Because from the outset — the 1990s onwards — Open Skies has been another in the long chain of failures for U.S. policy, politics, legislative oversight and military priorities.
Frankly, Open Skies is now a national embarrassment… another royal screw-up — one of many — by D.C.-Deep State bureaucrats. And that same Deep State wants Trump to kill off Open Skies to avoid facing their collective incompetency.
In other words, what’s going now long predates Trump, who inherited a total mess.
Since the 1990s, the U.S. has done Open Skies on the cheap; almost as an afterthought. In Washington-speak, the program has long been “under-resourced.”
The very hardware the U.S. employs for Open Skies gives away its lack of seriousness. For nearly 20 years, the U.S. Air Force has been using two (just two) aircraft to overfly Russia — a pair of OC-135Bs.5 Here’s a photo…
U.S. Air Force OC-135B “Open Skies” aircraft6
If you are a plane-spotter, you might be thinking, “Hey, that looks like an old Boeing 707.” In other words, it looks like – and it is! – an aircraft that has long been retired from service across most of the world. It “ought” to be in an air museum somewhere, not flying intelligence missions over Russia.
Indeed, the two specific aircraft that the Air Force uses for Open Skies rolled off the production line in 1961… 59 years ago.
The aircraft engines are old, too; Pratt & Whitney TF-33 designs, originally developed in 1958.7 The last production run for the engines was 1985, so spare parts are scarce. And they’re smoky, inefficient fuel hogs.
Meanwhile, flight controls and electronics inside the two Open Skies airplanes are mostly 1980s-era technology, installed in the 1990s.
Do you spot a trend here?
According to the Air Force, these two Open Skies aircraft cannot fulfill their mandate to monitor Russian territory. The plane’s range is “too short to safely execute desired mission options within the 96-hour Treaty in-country observation time constraint,” according to one government document.8
Per the Air Force, there are “extreme ranges between some Open Skies airfields and desired observation areas.” Oh my… Who would ever have thought there are “extreme ranges” in Russia? Perhaps they don’t teach geography in schools anymore.
It’s also no surprise to learn that Open Skies birds are the least reliable of all “135”-series airplanes still in the Air Force inventory, per the Omaha World Herald.9 They routinely break down, even — to great U.S. embarrassment — at Russian airfields.
The Herald had to review Russian media to find accurate information on “aborted flights” by U.S. Open Skies aircraft. The Nebraska newspaper calculated that U.S. Open Skies aircraft are over 200-times more likely to have maintenance problems than a typical commercial airliner.
According to former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the U.S. completed only 64% of its scheduled Open Skies missions in 2017 due to limitations of the aging airplanes. In contrast, Russia routinely completes 100% of its missions over all nations party to the treaty.
Obviously, if you don’t complete Open Skies missions due to maintenance shortfalls and lack of range, you don’t gather data. But instead of fixing the problems, the powers that be have launched accusations that the program is no good and “not in the U.S. national interest.”
In other words, for over two decades the Deep State has underfunded Open Skies and not taken the mission seriously. Now it’s literally falling apart with broken airplanes.
A few years ago, the Air Force commenced a program to acquire new airplanes for Open Skies, with a schedule that extends far into the 2020s.
But it’s already too late. The Deep State has generated a political stink over Open Skies. It has swayed Trump into a political “hard kill” of a treaty and intelligence program that has been completely mishandled by the eternal bureaucrats.
Of course, the “satellite Mafia” are in the background. These are people who claim that the U.S. can gather the same or better data from space-based assets. You know, those multibillion-dollar satellites that launch at night from Vandenberg, California, atop billion-dollar rockets.
The satellite guys downplay fundamental intelligence problems like high costs, predictable orbits, cross-range issues, atmospheric distortions and the like.
Then there are people who should know better, such as Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Last October he tweeted that “The president should withdraw from the Open Skies treaty and redeploy the hundreds of millions of dollars the Pentagon wastes on the flights and equipment to increase U.S. combat power.”10
Where does one begin to parse the silliness of that comment? Perhaps Sen. Cotton would have benefitted from staying in the Army past the rank of captain. “Hundreds of millions of dollars” might buy two more F-35s, or one-tenth of a nuclear submarine. But it’s a relative nothing-burger compared to the data and information we do NOT have about Russia; not even from those billion-dollar satellites.
Repeatedly in the past decade, Russia has surprised the U.S. with military developments. New classes of submarines… new ballistic and hypersonic missiles… new electronic systems. Ask anyone who had a look at operational Russian equipment and doctrine in Ukraine or Syria. It was one surprise after another.
But here we are… And for lack of seriousness and long-range planning over three decades, the U.S. has blown a major opportunity to show presence and gather significant intelligence.
This is a national disgrace, and it didn’t have to be this way.
Open Skies opened wide a door into Russia, the kind of which past intelligence-gathering masters could only have dreamed. Then the intel people blew it.
Indeed, if need be, we should be flying Cessnas over Russia to make use of every minute of intelligence-gathering opportunity. Instead, it’s a pair of broken old airplanes that were obsolete from the very first day. Unseriousness abounds here.
Basically, the Deep State — the military, legislators and policymakers during the Clinton, Bush and Obama eras — just let it all slide. And now they want Trump to bury this skeleton, along with all the other failures we’ve seen from the alleged Big Brain Crowd.
We’re about to go from not knowing nearly enough about Russia, to knowing even less. It is a dangerous development. But then, that’s your Deep State at work…
On that note, I rest my case.
That’s all for now… Thank you for subscribing and reading.
Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder
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