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Open Skies observation flight builds confidence

by JO1 Melinda Larson

First published in SFOR Informer #23, November 12, 1997

photo 1T.JPG (8551 bytes)The third "Open Skies" mission over Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) November 3-7 was widely acclaimed a success by all involved. The observation flight mission, mandated by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), was described as a "successful demonstration showing how reconciliation can turn into co-operation and eventually into true partnership," by Brig. Gen. (ret.) Iain Johnston, OSCE Deputy Head of Mission for Regional Stabilisation.

Photo 2T.JPG (7902 bytes)This "Open Skies" mission included two flights in a Russian-U.S. jointly operated Russian AN-30B aircraft and was the first such joint-mission between Russia and the U.S. "Two superpowers are working in co-operation with each other. We hope this flight demonstrates our confidence-building efforts to the people in Bosnia and throughout the world," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ken Hovatter, Mission Commander, Open Skies Division for the U.S. On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA). The mission was part of a series of five Open Skies related activities which have taken place involving representatives from BiH. Two other flights were flown earlier this year.

Photo 3T.JPG (4954 bytes)The flights flew over and photographed military and civilian points of interest to which both Republic Srpska (RS) and Federation Parties agreed upon. "Our aim was to involve as many local participants as possible. Most of the seats on the plane were provided to the Parties," said Hungarian Lt. Col. Laszlo Jozsa, a mission co-ordination officer assigned by the Hungarian Ministry of Defence to the Office of Regional Stabilisation (ORS).

The Open Skies concept dates back to a proposal made by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955. Open Skies envisages unarmed observation flights over the territory of States or Parties to promote confidence, predictability and stability. Eisenhower’s initiative proposed that the U.S. and the Soviet Union would open their airspace for unarmed observation flights.

The concept lay dormant until proposed again by former U.S. President George W. Bush in 1989 as the Cold War ended. Negotiations began in Ottawa, Canada in September 1989 between member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the former Warsaw Pact. The Open Skies Treaty, signed in March 1992 in Helsinki, Finland, promotes openness and transparency in military activities through reciprocal, unarmed observation flights. The Treaty gives each signatory the right to gather information about the military forces and activities of other signatories.

Today, the Treaty’s 27 signatories include Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kyrgystan, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Treaty was ratified in December 1993.

The team for the latest flight was composed of eight Russians, including the crew, and four American mission specialists. "As a Russian linguist this is an excellent mission for me," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ronald E. Lauscher of the OSIA. "This is the first time we’ve worked together on the same team."

The flight plan was formulated in Germany, in the German Verification Centre. The photographs taken during the flights were escorted to Budapest, Hungary for processing. The country providing the flights normally covers all expenses. "The Russians proposed their aircraft and crew if we would provide a mission crew and share the costs," added Hovatter. "It’s a small price to pay to demonstrate co-operation."

Open Skies aircraft may use optical video, panoramic and framing cameras; heat-imaging infrared line-scanning devices and sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar. The Treaty dictates strict processing rules. "During film processing, representatives from the country requesting the flight must send representatives to witness the process," added Jozsa. Representatives from the RS Army and Federation Army travelled to Budapest November 8-9 to witness the image-processing.

The Open Skies program will continue during 1998. The political and military leaders of the Parties of the Article II Agreement, also known as the Vienna Agreement, specified confidence and security-building measures within BiH. "The Parties want to be more involved and perhaps send observers to other countries," said Jozsa. The Open Skies Treaty offers a means for the armed forces of the Entities within BiH to gradually form their own circle of guest leading Open Skies experts.

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