Robins plays key role in Open Skies Treaty

  • Published
  • By Wayne Crenshaw
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Several times each year, a strange sight occurs out on the runway at Robins. 

In the distant sky, a plane similar to a Boeing 727 passenger jet appears on approach. When it lands, curious maintenance workers on the flightline notice a peculiar thing - Russian writing on the side of the jet.

After taxiing in for refueling, about 45 people in Russian military uniforms will step out of the plane, a Russian TU-154. They get off on a red carpet, and then there's a group photo that includes a member of Robins senior leadership.

It's all part of the Open Skies Treaty in which Robins plays a key role. The treaty allows the 27 signatory countries to fly over any other nation in the agreement for the purpose of taking aerial photographs. It's intended to promote trust between nations, and Robins' role is to act as a refueling point for planes photographing the U.S. The Russians are the only country that flies its own plane. The others pay the U.S. to ride jointly on an OC-135B Open Skies.

"It's really just trust building," said Glen Haisten, the installation treaty compliance officer at Robins. "We say we are doing this and they can come here and verify our operations. It shows we are not hiding anything. We are just doing our day-to-day operations and you can come and look all you want."

The Russians take advantage of the treaty about four times per year, and two or three times per year their flight path will bring them to Robins. They typically stay overnight, and during their stay will visit the Base Exchange, the Commissary and sometimes the Museum of Aviation. They have also gone off base to shop at Sam's Club or eat at local restaurants.

A team of about six escorts - usually military officers or enlisted personnel of mid-level rank - will accompany the group for the duration of their stay. Mr. Haisten said he is always looking for volunteers to be escorts, and he said it can be a rewarding experience.

1st Lt. Robert MacDermott served as an escort for a Russian visit earlier this year.

"That's the first time I've interacted with a foreign military," he said. "It's a unique experience and you get to see how they operate. Their military culture is different from ours."

He said one of the biggest things to get used to is the fact the Russians don't smile or talk very much. It could be easy to misinterpret tht body language without understanding that they have a different manner, he said.

"They were courteous, but they were very serious people," he said.

The BX and Commissary are the most popular places the Russians like to visit, and the two most popular items they purchase, Mr. Haisten said, are tires and instant coffee.

"They buy things most people wouldn't think of buying when they are on vacation," he said.

The Open Skies Treaty is one of two treaties that apply to Robins. The other is the Chemical Weapons Convention. That has a lesser role in the activities of the office because Robins is not identified as a military installation involved in chemical weapons.

The chemical weapons treaty would allow any signatory country to request an inspection of the base, but Mr. Haisten said that has never happened. The primary role for the office regarding that treaty is to maintain the related paperwork and make sure the base is ready in the event an inspection is requested.