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Trump administration to reportedly dispose of Open Skies treaty planes

The Trump administration is preparing to get rid of Air Force planes used for surveillance after exiting the Open Skies treaty with Russia, complicating President-elect Joe Biden options if he seeks to rejoin the accord, according to a report.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday announced the withdrawal from the decades-old treaty that allowed nations to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other’s territories.

Now the Trump administration is moving to jettison the specially equipped OC-135B planes used in the Open Skies flights, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The planes have been designated as “excess defense articles,” meaning they can be given or sold at steep discounts to allies, the report said, citing a senior US official.

“We’ve started liquidating the equipment,” the official said. “Other countries can come purchase or just take the airframes. They are really old and cost-prohibitive for us to maintain. We don’t have a use for them anymore.”

Older cameras used on the aircraft are expected to be given to allies, and new digital cameras the Pentagon planned to install on the planes will be sent to other Air Force units.

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Then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced in July that a program to buy new planes to replace the OC-135Bs was canceled, so Biden won’t have the option of replacing the flights with modern planes.

The former vice president was critical of the Trump administration’s plan to exit the pact but hasn’t said whether he will re-enter the treaty.


Czech soldiers inspect cameras installed on a U.S. Boeing B-707 OC-135B Observation Aircraft in Pardubice, Czech Republic.




Donald Trump

AFP via Getty Images

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“I supported the Open Skies Treaty as a senator, because I understand that the United States and our allies would benefit from being able to observe—on short notice—what Russia and other countries in Europe were doing with their forces,” Biden said in a statement in May after the Trump administration announced it would begin a six month review of the treaty.

The report said scrapping the aircraft wasn’t intended to hamstring the Biden administration but simply to get rid of planes and equipment the US no longer needs.

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