July 13, 2016

An important USAF first, in the far North of Russia, with help from the RCAF

Tiksi Airfield; I've mentioned it before (here) in relation to former Soviet Long Range Aviation "bounce" bases, where Soviet bombers would refuel on their way over the North pole, on their mission to turn the United States to a nuclear wasteland.

Location of Tiksi

Currently The Open Skies Treaty defines several airfields across signatory countries (such as Russia) where foreign observation planes are allowed to land and operate from, while performing Open Skies Treaty overflights.  One of those airfields is Tiksi, but, never before in the 20+ year history of the Open Skies Treaty have the Americans landed at the airfield on an observation flight.  Why haven't there been any American visits to this arctic location?  The runway is in rough shape, and while it has been reported in the Russian media that the airstrip will be fixed, and perhaps is in the middle of being fixed, it isn't fully repaired yet.  The American Open Skies treaty-approved plane is an Boeing OC-135B; being a 4 engine Jet, with a 5500km range, it requires a full ~8000ft of runway to land and take off.  Due to the condition of that runway, from ice heaves and deterioration of the surface, the OC-135B has been unable to fulfil its missions in Russia's far-North.

Tiksi Airfield

Enter the Royal Canadian Air Force

Canada is also signatory to the treaty, and flies a modified CC-130J Hercules, which is known to be able to land on rough terrain.  Outfitted with "SAMSON" (the RCAF shared Open Skies camera pod) containing a wet film framing camera, and 4 additional sensors, the RCAF plane conducted overflights of the region, with American representatives onboard, from July 4th to 9th 2016.  While the USAF is usually seen as technologically superior to the RCAF, this is one of those cases where the RCAF's choice of Open Skies Treaty-certified plane proved more useful than the more elegant OC-135B.  I think this is a big "win" for the RCAF, and should get more attention than it has.

I'd originally believed this was the first ever flight to Tikisi under the Open Skies Treaty, but previously there has been an Italian/Canadian joint flight, also using a Hercules.

Canadian crew members performing a flight under the Open Skies Treaty over Russia,
pose next to their C-130H aircraft (29 May 2003)
Credit: OSCE/Unknown Photographer
I presume these flights were to check up on the military bases being built or refurbished in Russia's far North, but I have no mission plan or flight plan to base that speculation on, yet.  Specifically I think the Kotelny Island Base(s) and Temp Airfield were on the target list for the observation flight.

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