Tag Archives: Open Skies

Russia’s New Tu-214ON Open Skies Surveillance Aircraft Tracked Online During Flights Over Taganrog Region

The new Tu-214ON has carried out a series of test flights in southwest Russia, close to the border with Ukraine.

Tupolev is continuing the testing of the new Tu-214ON (Otkrytoye Niebo – Open Skies), a highly modified Tu-214 airliner equipped with advanced photo and electronic sensors to peform Open Skies Treaty surveillance missions.

The Treaty on Open Skies entered into force on Jan. 1, 2002, and currently has 34 States Parties. The Treaty establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants with the aim to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. The Russian Air Force Russia is phasing out the An-30 and Tu-154M-ON used for Open Skies missions and replacing them with two Tu-214ON with registrations RF-64519 (ex RA-64519) and RF-64525 (ex RA-64525).

The aircraft, that performed its maiden flight in June 2011, has recently completed the first stage of certification for the Open Skies task, with missions carried out between May 21 and 29, 2018 over the Kubinka airfield: during those sorties, Russian specialists and inspectors aboard the new aircraft (that is operated by a crew that includes four flight crew and five systems operators) conducted an aerial survey of the optical test facility at the airbase located to the west of Moscow, to evaluate the digital surveillance systems along with the ground processing components. According to Russia’s Warplanes Vol. 1 by Piotr Butowski, the Tu-214ON is fitted with the M402N Ronsar side-looking radar with synthetic aperture with a range of 50 km over land and 200 km over water with a definition of 3m over land and 6-8m over water; dual-band Raduga IR scanner; a photo camera suite that includes a panoramic, a verticla and two oblique cameras; and a TV camera suite (one vertical and two oblique cameras).

Update: OSINT analyst, Jane’s (JIR) contributor and IT Security consultant Steffan Watkins contacted me to inform me and explained that the aircraft is not fitted with the SAR and that it only carries the digital electro-optical sensor OSDCAM4060, the same as the An-30B and Tu-154M LK-1. This is an extremely interesting development, considered that almost all the sources in the Public Domain say that the new aircraft is equipped with the SAR.

On Jun. 7, 15 and 16, the aircraft RF-64525, was tracked online during test flights conducted over Taganrog airfield, in southwest Russia. Since the airport is located  not far from the border with Ukraine there were some speculations the new surveillance aircraft might be involved in some intelligence gathering mission. However, considered it will complete its certification for the Treaty on Open Skies in September, it is much more likely the aircraft was “simply” performing a test flight on the airport that is home to the Taganrog Beriyev Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex and is filled with Beriev aircraft: a pretty realistic “target” (probably similar to many U.S. airbases) to calibrate/evaluate the onboard sensors. Indeed, the “racetracks” flown by the Tu-214ON are mostly aligned with the runway 05/23 at Taganrog.

Taganrog airport: note the number of aircraft parked on the aprons. (Image credit: GoogleMaps).

Here are some screenshots from Flightradar24.com taken by our friend and tracking authority @CivMilAir that show the routes followed by the Tu-214ON in the last few days.

Here’s the one for Jun. 7:

Jun. 7 mission over Taganrog.

Here’s the track on Jun. 15:

The track of the Tu-214ON on Jun. 15. (Screenshot from FR24.com via @CivMilAir)

The playback of flight RF-64525 is available here.

Top image credit: Oleg Belyakov/Wiki