Flying Aboard an Open Skies Mission

Posted by Alexander Borman
August 12, 2011
Alexander Borman Joins an Inspection Team to Examine Russian Rupolev-154 Aircraft

This past week, I had the privilege of representing the Department of State aboard a Russian military jet flying over the United States under the Open Skies Treaty. For those who are not familiar, the Open Skies Treaty, in order to promote transparency and confidence building among the 34 Parties to the Treaty, provides these States Parties the ability to fly a limited number of unarmed observation flights over any part of any signatory. The previous nine weeks of my internship in Washington D.C. provided me with ample background to understand the treaty implementation I witnessed first-hand.

State Department internships are 10 weeks. They offer undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to participate directly in U.S. foreign policy by working at the State Department headquarters in Washington D.C., or at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The program is highly competitive. Over 11,000 students applied to intern this summer, and approximately 1,000 were selected. And while most of the opportunities are unpaid, the experiences more than pay for themselves.

As an intern in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance's Office of Euro-Atlantic Security Affairs, I gained broad exposure to many of the issues that the office regularly faces relating to European and Euro-Atlantic conventional arms control agreements and commitments. I began my internship with small tasks to familiarize myself with the Department of State, the interagency coordination process, and the treaties themselves. These tasks ranged from updating a document tracking Vienna Document proposals, to drafting and clearing cables to our diplomats in Europe. During that time, I also had the opportunity to attend several internal and interagency meetings. As the weeks progressed, I was given more responsibility.

When I learned about the opportunity to fly on an Open Skies flight, I jumped at the chance to observe how treaties are actually implemented. I flew from Washington D.C., to California with personnel from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to meet the Russian military team. When the Russian team arrived at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento, in accordance with Treaty timelines, we learned that they were planning to overfly the West Coast, as well as Hawaii. After the U.S. team presented the point of entry brief welcoming Russia to the United States., I joined an inspection team to examine the Russian Tupolev-154 aircraft. In line with Treaty procedures, I photographed parts of the plane to aid the inspection team while other members of the team examined the cockpit, recorded the serial numbers of sensors, and performed a variety of other necessary tasks.

The flight plan that the Russians proposed took us over Eastern California, Nevada, and Utah on Tuesday, Western California and Hawaii on Wednesday, and Hawaii and California again on Friday. Observing the mission provided me with an in-depth look at how this Treaty is actually implemented. This included discussion of the special Treaty flight rules for Hawaii to enable Russia to observe Hawaii without using up their allotted flight distance, top priority by air traffic control to allow the Open Skies team to overfly the U.S. at specific altitudes without interference, and the interaction between the Russian and U.S. team chiefs when issues arose.

The professionalism of the U.S. team in facilitating the Russian observation flight was impressive. I pitched in whenever possible, including relaying communications between members of the U.S. team. I also monitored GPS maps of the plane's location with the deputy team chiefs, joined the interpreters and Russian sensor operators in the sensor bay to observe the aerial photography, and talked with the Russian team chief.

While implementation of the treaty is an essential confidence and security building measure between the United States and Russia, the working relationships developed between the U.S. and Russian personnel is invaluable. Actions by individuals are important to ensuring that both the letter and spirit of the treaty are followed. For example, during the flight, the U.S. and Russian teams were able to discuss several issues focused on future Treaty implementation.

I am thankful to both the U.S. and Russian Open Skies teams for permitting me to observe the implementation of the Open Skies Treaty first-hand. I was treated as a full member of the U.S. team and was able to interact with both officers and enlisted personnel in the U.S. military, perhaps my favorite part of the trip. I would also like to thank my entire office at the State Department for supporting me this summer. My internship greatly increased my interest in employment with the federal government in the future.

I strongly encourage students interested in participating in the Department of State internship program, or who would like to learn about careers in U.S. Diplomacy, to visit careers.state.gov.

Comments

Comments

level11
August 15, 2011

W.W. writes:

@Gottemoeller @usmissiongeneva

Yeah, having a nice master and margarita's while playing on nice bobby fisher board and some lenin main kampf on an Unconfortable plane.

aircraft fuel was a courtesy of Syrian Gazprom?

Lyubov Y'all ;)

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