It's that time again.
In accordance with the 'Open Skies' treaty, which allows the US, Russia and 32 other countries to carry out inspections of others' military infrastructure on their domestic territory, typically via spy plane, Russia carried out its latest reconnaissance flight over American territory this week.
A Russian Tu-214ON spy plane made a reconnaissance tour over the southwestern US, capturing images of military bases and nuclear and chemical weapons caches. On Wednesday, the Russian plane was spotted over Washington, DC conducting low-altitude surveillance (and probably scaring a few unsuspecting locals).
The observation aircraft graced US skies after taking off from Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in St. Joseph, Missouri on Thursday. The flight reportedly lasted six hours and saw the surveillance aircraft fly over a series of US defense and storage facilities scattered over the territory of West Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. This year's flight was the first time the new Russian aircraft had graced American skies.
The plane is reported to have flown over the Kirtland Air Force Base, home of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, and functions as a nuclear storage site. In Colorado, the plane passed over the Pueblo Chemical Depot, one of the last two sites in the US with chemical munitions and materials.
Open Skies was signed in 1992, but did not come into force until 2002. The US and Russia are among its 34 members. According to the treaty, the flights must be monitored by officials of the home countries.
Tu-214ON is an updated version of the regular Tu-214. Its cockpit can fit two more people, which allowed the manufacturer to install more modern electronics. Its range has increased to a reported 6,500km (4,040 miles). The aircraft boasts three sensor arrays that include a digital photo camera, an infrared camera, and a TV camera complete with a sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar.