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Grounding of Munster charity air ambulance ‘will see lives lost’


The grounding of Ireland’s first charity air ambulance service due to the Covid-19 pandemic halting fundraising activities will cost lives, an executive with the service has warned.

Ruth Bruton, operations manager with the Irish Community Rapid Response Air Ambulance Service, said it had taken the decision to ground the service indefinitely from April 3rd with deep regret.

Ms Bruton said that the service, which is staffed by National Ambulance Service personnel, had flown more than 350 missions since it began operations last September.

“We are very upset that lives will be lost due to the grounding of this service at this time, especially given how vital frontline medical support is during the Covid-19 pandemic and how successful the service has been to date,” she said.



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At least 29 Turkish soldiers killed in an air attack by Syrian regime, Turkish governor says



Thirty-six soldiers injured in the attack have been evacuated to hospitals in Turkey, Dogan said.

A security meeting is being held at the presidential palace after the “nefarious attack against heroic soldiers in Idlib who were there to ensure our national security,” according to a statement from Turkish director of communications Fahrettin Altun.

Turkey has retaliated in an effort to “revenge our martyred heroic soldiers,” the statement said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the Syrian attack, according to a statement released by the ministry. There were no further details about the content of the call.

The Syrian government has not commented on the Turkish claim.

Turkish soldiers are in the last rebel-held area of Syria as part of a 2018 de-escalation agreement between Ankara and Moscow. The Syrian government, backed by Russia, has mounted an aggressive air campaign against rebels in Idlib in recent weeks.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the last opposition-held territory in Syria in the last two months, per UN figures, in the wake of an air campaign and swift ground offensive by the Syrian regime and its Russian backers.

Tens of thousands are still on the move, and nearly 700,000 of the displaced are women and children, the UN said.

A spokesperson for the State Department said the United States is “very concerned.”

“We are in contact with Turkish authorities to confirm these developments and to have more clarity on the current situation on the ground,” the spokesperson said.

“We stand by our NATO Ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces.”



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U.S. Air Force complete U-2 SYERS-2C upgrades, enhancing the Dragon Lady’s imaging capability – Defence Blog


The U.S. Air Force, Collins Aerospace Systems, a unit of United Technologies (NYSE: UTX), and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works®(NYSE: LMT) recently completed flight testing and deployment of the latest variant of the Collins Aerospace Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System (SYERS) sensor, SYERS-2C, on the U-2. With this milestone, the entire U-2 fleet has been upgraded to the premier electro-optical/infrared sensor capability which provides increased optical performance and highly accurate long-range tracking for superior threat detection in a wider range of weather conditions.

“SYERS-2C represents an evolutionary step forward for the Air Force, capitalizing on a high performing, mature system to insert substantial new capabilities into the battlespace of the future,” saidKevin Raftery, vice president and general manager, ISR and Space Solutions for Collins Aerospace. “The U-2 has been the cornerstone of the Air Force’s ISR inventory and with upgrades like SYERS-2C, the system can continue to provide increasingly valuable multi-intelligence information to the warfighter for years to come.”

The 10-band, high spatial resolution SYERS-2C sensor provides unmatched ability to find, track and assess moving and stationary targets. Developed with open mission systems standards to enable command, control and data exchange with 5th generation platforms, the sensor has become a critical asset to theater commanders bringing unique advantages to joint operations across the battlespace.

“The SYERS-2C sensor is the premier intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imaging sensor and its integration into the U-2 Dragon Lady further enhances the aircraft’s ability to provide unparalleled strategic intelligence to our warfighters,” saidIrene Helley, U-2 program director, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. “This milestone continues our commitment to increase the flexibility of the aircraft using open mission systems to support the multi-domain battlespace.”

Flying 24/7 around the world at record-high operational rates, the U-2 Dragon Lady provides unparalleled intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to meet the needs of combatant commanders every day. More than an ISR aircraft, the U-2’s unique ability to rapidly reconfigure, collect, analyze and share data with disparate systems across the battlespace is transforming warfighting operations to ensure mission success far into the future.

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Air Canada reroutes flights over Middle East following Iran crash that killed 63 Canadians


TORONTO —
Air Canada has rerouted its flights over the Middle East after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed in Iran killing all on board.

Iranian officials told The Canadian Press they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the 3 1/2-year-old Boeing 737-800 jet, which crashed shortly after takeoff at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran.

Sixty-three Canadians were among those killed in the crash.

Transport Canada tweeted that Air Canada is the only Canadian carrier operating in the region.

“Air Canada.. has altered its routes to ensure the security of its flights into and over the Middle East,” the department tweeted January 8.

The Canadian airline has already rerouted a flight from Toronto to Dubai through Egypt and Saudi Arabia to avoid travelling over Iraq.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it was barring American pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace.

The flight restrictions reflected fears that the conflict between the U.S. and Iran could ratchet up, following Iranian ballistic missile strikes Tuesday on two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops.

Those strikes were retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad last week.

At least 500 commercial flights travel through Iranian and Iraqi airspace daily, Dubai-based aviation consult Mark Martin told The Canadian Press.

A raft of European airlines have also changed routes to bypass Iranian airspace.

The Russian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, issued an official recommendation for all Russian airlines to avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman “due to existing risks for the safety of international civil flights.”

Australian carrier Qantas said it was altering its London to Perth, Australia, route to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace until further notice.

Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines flights are also rerouted to avoid Iran.

India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation advised Indian commercial carriers to avoid Iranian, Iraqi and Persian Gulf airspace.





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Ankara threatens to close down U.S. Air Force base in Turkey – Defence Blog


A senior Turkish official said that Ankara threatening to close down the U.S. Air Force Incirlik Air Base.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a statement that Ankara may insist that the U.S. leave Incirlik air base if Washington goes ahead with the sanctions it has threatened in response to Turkey’s purchase of S-400 air defense systems.

“We will assess the worst-case scenario and make a decision. If the US imposes sanctions against Turkey, then the issue of the Incirlik and Kurecik bases may be on the agenda,” Cavusoglu said.

Deliveries of the latest Russian-made S-400 air defense systems, which caused a significant rift in relations between Turkey and the United States, began in July. According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the S-400 will be fully operational in April 2020.

The vast Incirlik Air Base, located in southern Turkey close to Syria, has been a longstanding symbol of U.S.-Turkish cooperation. At the height of the Cold War, it underscored America’s commitment to its NATO partner against the Soviet Union.

Incirlik Air Base has a U.S. Air Force complement of about five thousand airmen, with several hundred airmen from the Royal Air Force and Turkish Air Force also present. The primary unit stationed at Incirlik Air Base is the 39th Air Base Wing (39 ABW) of the U.S. Air Force. Incirlik Air Base has one 3,048 m (10,000 ft)-long runway, located among about 57 hardened aircraft shelters.

It is worthwhile noting that estimated B61 nuclear gravity bombs stored at İncirlik airbase, which is about 100 miles from the Syrian border and which the US air force shares with its Turkish counterpart.

Of the five nuclear weapons storage locations in Europe, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey stores one-third of the weapons in Europe, although there are unconfirmed rumors that the weapons may have been withdrawn.

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Vermont Air National Guard receives next three F-35 Lightning II aircraft – Defence Blog


The Vermont Air National Guard, the air force militia of the State of Vermont, has received the next three F-35 Lightning II aircraft, which landed at the Vermont Air National Guard just after 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, Dec., 5, 2019.

These aircraft are part of the 20 total aircraft assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard, with the full complement arriving by summer 2020.

The aircraft departed Thursday morning from Fort Worth, Texas, and were flown by Vermont Air National Guard pilots assigned to the 134th Fighter Squadron.

“Today’s arrival is part of our scheduled plan to receive all the aircraft through 2020,” said Col. Adam Rice, vice commander, 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard. “I’m very proud that our team is ready and our pilots were able to fly these Vermont aircraft home.”

The Vermont Air National Guard is the first Air National Guard to receive the F-35 Lightning II.

The first F-35s assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing arrived at the Vermont Air National Guard Base on September 19th.

“Each aircraft arrival is another step towards finalizing the fielding process at the Vermont Air National Guard,” said Brig. Gen. Greg Knight, Vermont Adjutant General. “Our Airmen have performed remarkably to get to this point and I am, as always, impressed with their dedication towards their mission.”

On 19 October, the 158th Fighter Wing (158 FW), a unit of the Vermont Air National Guard, hosted a welcome ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the first F-35 Lightning II aircraft to the wing, South Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vt., Oct. 19, 2019.

As the first fighter wing to receive the F-35 Lighting II, Guard officials say Vermont is paving the way for stronger partnerships between the Air Force and the Air National Guard, ultimately better protecting the United States from adversaries.

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Suspected shooter at Naval Air Station Pensacola was Saudi national


The suspected gunman who killed three people and injured several others at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday morning was a Saudi national, according to law enforcement sources.

Sources identified him as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.

The shooter was killed in the incident.

Two Escambia County sheriff’s deputies were on scene immediately after reports of a shots fired at about 6:50 a.m. local time. They were injured in an exchange of gunfire with the shooter, authorities said.

One was shot in the arm and the other was shot in the leg and was in surgery, Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said during a morning news conference. They are both expected to survive.

“Walking through the crime scene was like being on the set of a movie,” Sheriff David Morgan told reporters.

In addition to the two officers, five other people were injured, officials said. All seven had been taken to nearby Baptist Hospital for treatment.

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The base was still on lockdown at about 10 a.m. and was to remain closed for the rest of the day, with only essential personnel allowed to enter. Pensacola Mayor Grover C. Robinson also asked residents to avoid the area around the base as investigators swarmed the scene.

The shooting unfolded in a two-floor classroom building at the base, which is a training facility.

Jeff Bergosh, a facilities manager at the base, had just arrived at the front gates when the station was put on lockdown, trapping thousands of workers in their cars.

“It’s been pretty surreal,” Bergosh told MSNBC. “We’re just praying for all the victims.”

He said more than 10,000 workers come to Naval Air Station Pensacola every day — many entering from Navy Boulevard, which Friday morning became a mileslong parking lot when the lockdown was ordered.

“When this happened was prime-time rush hour for all the base employees,” Bergosh said. “It was chaos with the ambulances and the police vehicles screaming by with the sirens. We knew pretty quickly that this was a pretty serious event.”

“Both gates of NASP are currently secured due to reports of an active shooter,” a post said early Friday on the station’s Facebook page.

President Donald Trump has been briefed on the shooting and is monitoring the situation, the White House said.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted: “Saddened to hear of the horrible shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola & continuing to monitor the situation. Praying for the victims & their families & we commend the first responders for their swift action in taking down the shooter & getting those on base to safety.”

It is the second shooting at a U.S. military facility this week. On Wednesday, a U.S. sailor fatally shot two civilian Defense Department employees and wounded a third at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii before killing himself, according to military officials.

The naval base incident Friday also comes one day after rumors of a shooting at a school in the same county, the Escambia County School District’s Tate High School. The district office said the threats were not credible, but extra security was sent to the school.

Naval Air Station Pensacola employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel. It was the nation’s first naval air station and is the home of the popular Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron and the National Naval Aviation Museum, making it a popular tourist destination. It is also the headquarters of the Naval Education Training Command.

In 2016, the base was relatively late to enact security measures to separate the nearly 1 million tourists who visit each year from the sailors, Marines and other base employees, the Navy Times reported.

The naval air station established separate entrance gates for people who worked at the base and visitors, which are about three miles apart. Tourists also can’t access military areas without passing through guard booths and roadblocks.

This is a developing story; please check back for updates.

David K. Li contributed.





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Behind Trump’s secret war-zone trip: A Mar-a-Lago escape, a twin Air Force One and a Twitter plan


For a president who at times seems to be at war with his own military leaders, it was a celebration of America’s troops that a small circle of aides planned carefully for weeks to prevent leaks that could scuttle the trip.

“It’s a long flight,” Trump joked after serving turkey in a cafeteria here on Thanksgiving night. “But we love it.”

Trump’s surprise three-and-a-half-hour stop marked his second visit to a combat zone and his first trip to Afghanistan, dropping into a dangerous region that cultivated the leaders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Last year, after facing criticism for being in office nearly two years without visiting troops overseas, Trump had hinted for weeks that he would take a trip soon — “I’m going to a war zone,” he bristled when asked whether he was afraid to visit. No one was particularly surprised when an amateur British aircraft watcher tracked a Boeing VC-25A, one of the modified Boeing 747s that typically serves as Air Force One, flying over Europe.

This year, Trump said nothing publicly before leaving his family, including First Lady Melania Trump, at Mar-a-Lago for his secret visit to Afghanistan.

His staff ensured tweets would be sent from Trump’s Twitter account so Trump-watchers wouldn’t get suspicious that the normally Twitter-obsessed president wasn’t tweeting — like they did last year.

This time, 12 of the 13 journalists who traveled with Trump — representing news wires, print and broadcast outlets — were picked up on the roof of a public parking garage near Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington and not even told where they were traveling until just before they arrived in Afghanistan. Cell phones, hotspots and any other devices emitting a signal were confiscated from everyone traveling on Air Force One — yes, even the president himself.

Trump secretly slipped out of Mar-a-Lago earlier that evening and departed from an undisclosed airport on a flight a little after 7 p.m. Wednesday. The 13th journalist on the Afghanistan trip — a television correspondent — was aboard that flight and described it in a pool report as “bare-bones, except for four blue leather chairs and a moderately fancy port-a-potty that had been brought in for the occasion.”

Trump greeted the crew of that plane and even stayed in the cockpit for takeoff, the pool report said.

The presidential aircraft that Trump had flown to Florida a day earlier remained parked at Palm Beach International Airport, allowing travelers to see the modified blue-and-white 747 aircraft known around the globe as Air Force One.

That was a decoy. Secretly, a twin plane also used as Air Force One was hidden inside a cavernous hangar at Joint Base Andrews — instead of being lit up on the tarmac as usual — allowing the president to clandestinely hop on a flight without the public catching on. He departed just after 10 p.m. for the nonstop flight to Bagram Air Field, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.

Reporters traveling with the president learned their destination from White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham two hours before their arrival. A digital clock in Air Force One’s press cabin usually shows times in Washington, the plane’s location at the moment and its destination. The time for the destination was left blank until landing in Afghanistan.

“It’s a dangerous area and he wants to support the troops,” Grisham said of the president. “He and Mrs. Trump recognize that there’s a lot of people far away from their families during the holidays and we thought it’d be a nice surprise.”

Asked how the president was feeling, Grisham responded: “He’s good. He’s excited.”

Air Force One landed in the dark at 8:33 p.m. local time with the shades drawn and interior lights off for security reasons — just as it had taken off from the Washington area.

Two surveillance blimps could be seen overhead. It was quiet and dark except for a smattering of lights. The base smelled of burning wood and trash.

The president moved through the sprawling base in a 15-vehicle motorcade that included tan Toyotas with soldiers standing in the truck beds holding combat rifles. Trump was followed into each location by teams of heavily armed combat troops in fatigues, helmets and night-vision goggles.

Journalists were barred from reporting on the trip until just before their departure from Afghanistan, after briefly getting internet access on the base to file. For three hours, they watched the president — in a blue suit with a red striped tie — serve turkey in a cafeteria, pose for photos and deliver remarks in a hangar to 1,500 military personnel.

For once, Trump made no mention of the troubles he’s facing at home. He didn’t discuss House Democrats pushing to impeach him in the coming weeks for pressuring Ukraine to opening politically advantageous investigations against a potential 2020 opponent. He also didn’t mention his rift with military leaders, including a new one just days before this trip.

He entered to the song that greets Trump at every rally — “God Bless the USA” — and was greeted with loud cheers and chants of, “USA! USA!” About 50 troops in fatigues stood behind him on a makeshift stage with a helicopter parked stage left.

Trump heaped praise on the troops and bragged about his accomplishments, specifically praising the work to destroy the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

And he had a supporting actor on hand to praise the president as well — Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who met with Trump on the base earlier as the president announced the resumption of peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Ghani, before a sea of troops, complimented the president for taking out leadership of the region’s major terrorist groups. “President Trump, people talk a lot about [Osama] bin Laden — but what you did to eliminate [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi,” he said.

“Please thank your families for agreeing to miss you on this special occasion and for being here defending United States security and our freedom,” said the Afghan president, who learned of Trump’s trip just hours before his arrival. “We will never forget what 9/11 brought us and we will never permit the repetition of 9/11 again.”

Trump told the troops stationed at Bagram that the war in Afghanistan “will not be decided on the battlefield” but by the people of the region with a political solution.

“And we will continue to work tirelessly until the day when we can bring each and every one of you home and safe to your family — and that day is coming,” Trump said.

After a 13-hour journey, and a brief period on the ground, Trump also wistfully told the troops that his Thanksgiving meal had been cut short. “I sat down, I had a gorgeous piece of turkey and I was all set to go. And I had some mashed potatoes and I had a bite of mashed potatoes, and I never got to the turkey, because Gen. [Mark] Milley said come on over, sir, let’s take some pictures. I never got to my turkey. It’s the first time at Thanksgiving that I’ve never had anything called turkey.“

Soon after, Trump hopped back onto his plane for another long flight back to Mar-a-Lago, where he usually spends Thanksgiving Day.





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U.S. Air Force retired integral component of long-range strategic bombing capabilities – Defence Blog


The U.S. Air Force retired an integral component of the United States’ long-range strategic bombing capabilities – the final Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missile (CALCM) package.

The CALCM missile package is retired at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Nov. 20, 2019.

Initially beginning design in 1974, the CALCM missile has been employed in combat operations to include Desert Storm, Desert Strike, Desert Fox, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Decades later, the final missile package was disassembled to become demilitarized.

“It’s incredible to see the tail end of a weapons system come full circle,” Tech. Sgt. Carlos Solorza, 2nd Munitions Squadron weapons system bay chief said during the final upload of the CALCM weapon system. “I don’t think I’ll ever be apart of another weapon retirement and the fact that I’m here right now is pretty special.”

The CALCM missile is a small, winged missile powered by a turbofan jet engine, able to fly complicated routes through terrain with the guidance of a GPS aided inertial navigation system.

“I’ve loaded this weapon system well over 300 times,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul LaFlame, former weapons superintendent at Barksdale. “This has been the primary weapon system on the B-52 for decades now.”

Although missile design began in the mid-1970s, CALCM wasn’t employed in combat until January of 1991, during Operation Secret Squirrel, a mission in which seven B-52G Stratofortresses took off from Barksdale toward Iraqi targets, launching 35 CALCM missiles.

Opening the first strikes of Operation Desert Storm, the then-new CALCM missiles devastated Saddam Hussein’s forces and marked the first time GPS has been used to guide a missile to a target.

Former members of the mission, retired Cols. Trey Morriss and Warren Ward alongside LaFlame were in attendance for the final download of the last CALCM missiles.

“It’s awesome to see these young Airmen, it makes me feel young,” said Ward. “It’s always great to interact with young troops, they’re phenomenal. It’s great to see the Air Force still moving along seamlessly, with great people who still get the job done,” LaFlame added.

The CALCM weapon system is to be replaced over time as more advanced Long-Range, Stand-Off (LRSO) weapons enter the active stockpile.

Photo by Airman Jacob Wrightsman

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