Air Force planning industry day for Open Skies recapitalization

By Rachel Cohen  
May 16, 2018 at 3:33 PM

The Air Force will hold a teleconference May 30-31 with companies interested in building a new aircraft to monitor other countries' domestic military operations under the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, according to a notice posted this week.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's industry day aims to "identify potential business sources with the expertise, capabilities and experience for qualification and production of aircraft and integration of digital visual imaging systems" to replace the pair of Boeing OC-135Bs with antiquated film cameras, according to a May 16 notice. The current fleet is nearly 60 years old.

Inside Defense recently reported Bombardier and Boeing are considering whether to bid on the program, while Embraer will not compete. Textron, Gulfstream and Airbus did not respond to a request for comment. At least seven companies were interested in the competition last year.

A House staffer suggested May 4 other Air Force platforms could perform the OC-135's mission instead of purchasing newer aircraft, but the service wants to switch to two small, commercial planes that are available to other treaty signatories.

Holding an industry day signals the Air Force is moving ahead with its Open Skies fleet recapitalization program despite lawmakers' push to restrict funding for the program until the Trump administration takes steps to rebuke Russia for violating the treaty, among other related proposals included in the House Armed Services Committee's version of the fiscal year 2019 defense policy bill.

In April, the State Department told the Senate Armed Services Committee it was penalizing Russia's Open Skies program by declining to waive air traffic control rules and regulations, disallowing them to stay overnight at refueling airfields and limiting missions near Hawaii to 900 kilometers around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI, according to documents Inside Defense reviewed this week.

A State Department official also told Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) that while Russia plans to certify the Tu-214 reconnaissance aircraft with a digital electro-optical sensor for Open Skies flights, treaty signatories can't certify it before July because Russia still needs to submit certain technical documents.