The Russian Defense Ministry can rub its hands: the United States has decided to write off the reconnaissance aircraft used under the Open Skies Treaty. These vehicles will no longer explore Russian territory. On the other hand, Russian aircraft – analogues of the Tu-204ON will continue to serve in a new field, and this can be called a kind of gift from the American authorities.
Moscow did not grieve much about the Open Skies Treaty (DON) itself, the decision to withdraw from which was made by the administration of US President Donald Trump back in May last year. Like, you close the sky, and we will react in a mirror image. As was the case with the INF Treaty in 2019, when Russia’s attempts to maintain parity with the United States in intermediate and shorter-range missiles were unsuccessful. Even then, Moscow did not remain a loser. Actually, even now there is at least one pragmatic plus. Aircraft Tu-214ON, built specifically for this program, as can be assumed, will be converted to the level of Tu-214R. The letter “P” means belonging to reconnaissance aircraft.
The Open Skies Treaty itself was signed in 1992 in Helsinki at the suggestion of the United States. Even earlier, in 1955, he was actively lobbied by the American President Eisenhower, but due to the gathering pace of the Cold War, both sides did not consider it necessary to gain the ability to control each other from the air. There could be no question of any trust that would allow the parties to the treaty to make legal reconnaissance flights over the territories of other states.
Russia ratified the treaty in 2001, but made its first observation flights only in 2008, simultaneously providing partners (37 countries, including the United States) with the opportunity to control their territory for unpredictable “aggression.”
Russia initially used specially converted An-30B and Tu-154M LK-1 aircraft for observation flights under this program. The Tu-214ON that appeared later were equipped with special equipment – all types of permitted and verified observation equipment within the framework of the Don. Two such aircraft were released (in 2011 and 2013), but most of them were idle on the ground due to the Pentagon’s suspicion about the installation of “undocumented” tracking systems on board. As a result, only once a Russian observer inspected the territory of the United States in April 2019 – the flight was carried out over the states of Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. After January 15, 2021, Russia, following the United States, actually withdrew from the Don, these aircraft generally lost their relevance. At least within the framework of this agreement.
It is known that in the “ON” modification, the Tu-214 has equipment for digital imaging, side-looking radar with synthesized equipment and infrared equipment. This flying reconnaissance laboratory makes it possible to scan military objects within a radius of 250-400 km from an altitude of 9-12 km, bearing in communications equipment and radio signals arriving at command posts. It is likely that such characteristics were the reason for the refusal of their participation in inspection flights over the territory of the United States. At the same time, the capabilities of American reconnaissance aircraft are also quite high. The same Boeing OS-135V is capable of “seeing and hearing” for several hundred kilometers.
And now it became known that the United States is going to send its Boeing OS-135В Open Sky (“Open Sky”), used in Don, to the “cemetery”. This was reported by the World Herald, published in the state of Nebraska, where there are two of these aircraft at the US Air Force base. The information was leaked to American journalists by retired Brigadier General Don Bacon, who previously commanded the 55th wing of the US Air Force, which includes the 45th reconnaissance squadron. He, in turn, refers to the report of the US Air Force Secretary John Roth.
That is, the Americans made a decision not only about the final withdrawal from the Don, but also about getting rid of outright aviation junk.
The first Boeing OS-135V was refitted under the DON program back in 1993. It should be understood that such aircraft were created on the basis of the KS-135 Stratotanker, an American jet four-engine multifunctional military transport aircraft / tanker aircraft, produced from 1954 to 1965. That is, the average age of these air vehicles is about 60 years – their resource is most likely at the limit, and by definition it is time for them to go to the landfill.
According to the American media, due to technical problems with the Boeing OS-135V, scheduled observation missions had to be canceled on a regular basis. In 2016, one of them got stuck in Russia for several days due to electrical problems. During the return flight, a fire broke out on board due to problems with the pressurization system, as a result of which an emergency landing had to be made.
However, unlike Russia, the United States has dozens of highly sophisticated and modern reconnaissance and target designation aircraft. Some of them, in particular, regularly fly near Russian borders. And these machines of the US Air Force do not intend to write off at all. But the Russian Air Force for many years was generally deprived of specialized heavy reconnaissance aircraft, and the creation of the Tu-214R was accompanied by considerable difficulties.
One can even say that for the Russian Air Force, the DON gap is like a gift that has fallen from the sky. US withdrawal from DON allows Russian aviation to acquire two of the latest and most urgently needed specialized reconnaissance vehicles. Tu-214ON is only eight and ten years old, and given the fact that they were idle most of the time, their flight resource is still quite high. Therefore, it is quite logical that a decision was made to convert them into a Tu-214R reconnaissance aircraft.
Basically, nothing really needs to be altered, so add a little “spy stuff”. These two aircraft will most likely replenish the existing GRU fleet (now the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces), which also includes two Tu-214R aircraft. They were ordered in 2009 and 2014 by military unit 45807 – the headquarters of Russian military intelligence. One of these aircraft, with registration number RF-64514, is now at the Russian Khmeimim airbase in Syria and, presumably, is not idle idle.
Reconnaissance aircraft are secret objects, and the true capabilities of the equipment are not advertised. According to open data, the Tu-214R is equipped with the MRK-411 multifrequency radio-technical complex, which consists of several radar stations with active phased antenna arrays of side and all-round visibility, which provides information in both active and passive modes.
The equipment also makes it possible to intercept radio communications.
These aircraft are also equipped with a high-resolution fiber-optic system “Fraction”, which is located in the fairing of the lower part of the fuselage and provides real-time, visible and infrared images of the surface. The system provides scanning of huge areas, the issuance of processed and synthesized “pictures” on the screens of operators and ground headquarters. And thanks to the presence of a georadar, this reconnaissance aircraft is able to detect even objects hidden underground or camouflaged.
In addition to these functions, the aircraft is capable of being used as a command and control point and for targeting weapons to detected targets. According to its characteristics, it is capable of conducting reconnaissance on the ground at a distance of up to 250 km from an altitude of 9-12 km, detecting targets deep behind enemy lines, under the cover of its aviation and air defense systems.
Electronic intelligence systems are capable of detecting radars and other emitting objects, identifying them and determining their location.
The Tu-214ON, of course, did not have such a complete set of reconnaissance equipment, because the conduct of observation flights presupposed the presence of “controllers” of the host country. Therefore, the “filling” was somewhat more modest – strictly within the framework of the contract. Now nothing prevents it from supplementing and improving, perhaps even with more modern means than those of the operating Tu-214R.
It is likely that “ON” will receive exactly the same letter “P” as belonging to intelligence. It can be assumed that reconnaissance aircraft will be operated primarily in Syria, although all military districts of Russia are interested in them. It is possible that the Tu-154M LK-1 aircraft, which was involved in the DON program, will still remain in service – also after modernization.