After decorating Ukrainian servicemen on the Bakhmut front, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is now in the United States, to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and make a speech to the combined Senate and House of Representatives. This visit will also be an opportunity for the United States to announce new military aid to Ukraine, including for the first time the Patriot long-range anti-aircraft system.
A brief visit to the United States
This morning, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, confirmed that he is on his way to the United States to make a brief but probably historic state visit. He is expected to meet Joe Biden, the American president, at the White House around 2:30 pm (8:30 pm Paris time, GMT+1). He will then head to the U.S. Capitol, where he will address the Senate and the House of Representatives in a joint session (a rare honor for a foreign representative visiting the United States). According to National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby, the trip will focus on defense and diplomatic issues. The latter actually spoke to MSNBC:
"It's clear that we're going to make sure that President Zelensky, when he leaves this country, knows that he's leaving with the full support of the United States." (Reuters)
This visit will also be an opportunity for the U.S. to announce new military aid to Ukraine. The MIM-104 Patriot long-range anti-aircraft system will indeed be sent to Ukraine. Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State confirmed this information via a release. For the past few days, many reports suggested that this anti-aircraft system was an option for the upcoming military aid (article on the subject).
Takeoff from Poland
The Ukrainian president boarded a C-40B Clipper transport plane numbered 01-0041. The latter had taken off from the U.S. air base in Ramstein (Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany) for the regional airport in Rzeszów (Podkarpackie, Poland). This regional airport has been known worldwide since the beginning of the Russian invasion as it is used as a hub for international aid (civilian and military) to Ukraine. Strategically placed next to the Ukrainian border and close to a highway, many donations have passed through this airport. Moreover, it is secured by military units, including MIM-104 Patriot anti-aircraft systems (more info on this airport in this article). At about 08:15, the plane took off toward the U.S. capital, Washington D.C. It landed at Andrews Air Force Base at about 18:08 (GMT+1).
No fighter aircraft were visible at the tracking sites. A NATO E-3 Sentry forward air lookout and command (AEW&C) aircraft was flying in the area. This aircraft was probably involved in securing the area, but this is not a specific mission: since the Ukrainian missile strike in Poland, NATO E-3s have been patrolling the area almost daily. A second E-3 Sentry was also on patrol in the North Sea, but this is also a regular patrol area for this aircraft. Like the other E-3, it may have been involved in securing the airspace around the C-40B.
As a reminder, the C-40B Clipper is the militarized version of the Boeing 737-700 (fuselage) on which the wings and landing gear of the Boeing 707-800 have been added. The first aircraft entered service in 2003, followed by 10 others. They enabled the retirement of the older C-137 transport aircraft, the militarized version of the Boeing 707. The Clippers come in two versions: the C-40B is more geared toward transporting military authorities, and the C-40C is a variant used more by members of the Presidential Cabinet or Congress. The 11 aircraft are dispersed among:
- The US Air Force (4)
- The Air National Guard (3)
- The Air Force Reserve (4)
Their mission is to provide domestic and international transportation for senior US civilian and military authorities. In fact, it is equipped to allow passengers to continue to work and travel in a "flying office." It is equipped with secure radio, video, data, etc. links.
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