OC-135B Replacement

The US Air Force is considering options to replace its two operational OC- 135B Open Skies aircraft, operated by the 55th Wing’s 45th Reconnaissance Squadron based at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. Both airframes were built in 1962 as C-135B Stratolifters, entered modification to OC-135B configuration in 1992 and have been operational since 1996. Under the Open Skies Treaty, they are allowed to conduct short-notice aerial inspections of facilities in the former Soviet Union. They are equipped with one vertical and two oblique KS-87E low-altitude (3,000ft/910m), and one KA-91C panoramic high - altitude (35,000 ft/ 10,668 m) film cameras.

The OC-135Bs had been expected to remain in service until after 2040, but the difficulty of maintaining the ageing airframes and cameras and the cost associated with operating a small specialised fleet required to make frequent overseas deployments has led the US Air Force to issue a request for information to industry for an off-the-shelf commercial aircraft that could be modified to perform the Open Skies mission with digital cameras. The potential replacement requires a range of 3,900 nautical miles (7,200km) and an operational altitude of 35,000ft (10,668m). The US Air Force reported seven manufacturers had expressed interest. If the OC-135Bs are not replaced, the Air Force is planning to replace their cameras and mission systems in FY2020.