News Briefs – November 7, 2018

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USS Wichita to be commissioned by Navy in early January

The third Navy ship to bear the city of Wichita’s [Kansas] name will be sent into active duty early next year.
The littoral combat ship USS Wichita will be commissioned Jan. 12 at a Naval Station in Mayport, Fla. Littoral combat ships are the Navy’s fastest ships and are used for minesweeping, anti-submarine, drug trafficking or humanitarian operations.
The Wichita Eagle reports the ship is 387 feet long, 57 feet wide and has a top speed of more than 45 knots — or nearly 52 mph.
The USS Wichita also is equipped with a launching pad for two, MH-60 Seahawk helicopters.
The first USS Wichita was a heavy cruiser that earned 13 battle stars during World War II. The second was a replenishment oiler that earned four battle stars in Vietnam. AP
 

Air Force mascot falcon improving after injury at West Point

An Air Force falcon injured at West Point during a prank Nov. 3 before the annual rivalry football game between the service academies is back home and showing signs of improvement.
The 22-year-old bird named Aurora “was able to fly around in her pen” on Sunday, said Air Force Academy spokesperson Lt. Col. Tracy A. Bunko.
The development is “an extremely good sign,” Bunko said, adding that the academy is “grateful for the outpouring of support and optimistic for Aurora’s recovery.”
The falcon will continue to be evaluated and will get antibiotics to prevent infection, Bunko said.
Army officials at West Point apologized Nov. 4 for the injuries to the falcon and promised a full investigation.
“We are taking this situation very seriously, and this occurrence does not reflect the Army or USMA core values of dignity and respect,” the academy said in a statement.
Sam Dollar, Air Force’s falconry team adviser, told The New York Times on Nov. 4 that two West Point cadets took the birds, threw sweaters over them and stuffed them into dog crates. Dollar said the cadets turned over the birds the morning of Nov. 3, with Aurora’s wings bloodied — likely from thrashing inside the crate.
“I think they had them for a couple hours and then they realized it was a bad mistake,” Dollar told the newspaper. “When Aurora started thrashing around in the crate, they decided that wasn’t a good thing.”
Aurora is the Air Force Academy’s official and oldest mascot. On the school’s falconry page, the bird is described as a white phase gyrfalcon, which is a “falcon species that is extremely rare in the wild and whose beauty will take your breath away.”
“Unless you are federally licensed, you can’t even touch them,” Dollas said, adding the Air Force cadets who work with the birds spend two months in training and are tested before they can handle them.
Three percent of all falcons are gyrfalcons, and 1 percent of those are white, according to the website. The school acquired Aurora 22 years ago as a gift from the association of graduates. AP
 

Pentagon: Russian jet flies too close to U.S. aircraft

The Pentagon says that a Russian fighter jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. military reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the Black Sea on Nov. 5.
Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon says the Russian SU-27 made a high-speed pass directly in front of the U.S. EP-3 and came “very, very close” to the American aircraft. Pahon says the Russian jet then activated its afterburners creating more turbulence, and then made a second pass by the U.S. plane.
He says it was deemed an unsafe encounter that put the U.S. pilots and crew at risk. He says there was no communication between the two aircraft and the incident lasted about 25 minutes.
The U.S. EP-3 Aries came out of Souda Bay, Greece, and was conducting routine operations. AP
 

Romania buys 3 extra Patriot missiles for long-term defense

Romania’s defense ministry confirms it has paid for three air-and-missile defense systems from the United States for its long-term defense strategy.
Defense Minister Mihai Fifor said Nov. 2 that the units, purchased this week, were in addition to a $3.9 billion military contract that Romania signed with the U.S. in 2017 for other Patriot missiles. The amount Romania paid was not available.
Mike Ellison, an official with Raytheon, which makes the Patriot missiles, said: “Romania is purchasing the most advanced, capable, cutting-edge tactical ballistic missile defense system in the world.”
The U.S., Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and Poland — all NATO members — and Sweden, which is not — all have Patriot defense systems.
The purchase is part of Romania’s strategic partnership with the U.S. The missiles are expected to become operational by 2020. AP