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2 Marines Received Valor Awards for Secret Gunfight Against al-Qaida

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This article by Paul Szoldra originally appeared on Task & Purpose, a digital news and culture publication dedicated to military and veterans issues

Two members of Marine Special Operations Command received valor awards for their heroism during a gun battle last year with al-Qaida militants in Northern Africa, a spokeswoman for U.S. Africa Command confirmed on Wednesday.

While on a three-day operation to train, advise, and assist partner forces in the unnamed country — which the command withheld due to “classification considerations, force protection, and diplomatic sensitivities” — the Marine Special Operations Team on February 28, 2017, became engaged in a “fierce fight against members of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb,” according to one of the award citations for the unnamed Marines, who are often referred to as “Raiders.”

The two award citations for the Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal (with “V” distinguishing device for valor) were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Task & Purpose. Despite redactions of names and the specific Marine Raider team involved, the citations provide a glimpse of a battle between Americans and militants on the African continent that had not previously been made public.

While the specific country where the battle took place remains unknown, Northern Africa consists of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara, according to the United Nations.

Africa Command spokeswoman Samantha Reho told Task & Purpose in a statement that partner forces initially engaged and killed one al-Qaida fighter with small arms fire before calling for helicopter support. Militants then attempted to flank the Marines and partner forces from the rear, leading the Marines to “return fire in self-defense.”

According to one citation, the Raiders’ communications chief and assistant element leader — typically a sergeant or above — “provided critical communications relay and ensured proper positioning of partner force elements.” The citation went on to say the Marine, while under accurate enemy fire, provided immediate trauma care for a fellow Raider who was wounded and helped evacuate him into a partner force helicopter that was hovering six feet above his position.

The second citation for an element member on the team — typically a sergeant or below — captures how the battle raged from the helicopter overhead. While onboard the partner force helicopter, the Marine fired at militants below, coordinated close air support, and directed the gunners and pilots on board the aircraft.

The militants responded with accurate fire, however, and a partner force soldier behind the helicopter’s M60 machine gun was shot twice in the foot, after which “[the Marine Raider] took control of the M60 and continued to suppress the enemy while treating the wounded gunner,” the citation said.

“He then accompanied the helicopter during the casualty evacuation of the Marine Raider and a second casualty later in the day, and conducted two re-supply deliveries all under enemy fire,” the citation added.

The partner force ultimately secured the site of the battle and “assessed two enemies were killed,” Reho told Task & Purpose. The wounded Marine was evacuated and has since made a full recovery.

The gun battle between Marines and al-Qaida militants took place seven months before a deadly battle between ISIS militants and U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers who were advising partner forces in Niger. The October 4, 2017 ambush resulted in the deaths of four American service members and led the Pentagon to conduct a major review of U.S special operations missions in Africa.

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Norway Confirms Plan to Double Number of Marines Near Russian Border

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Twice as many Marines will deploy to Norway next year and train just hundreds of miles from the Russian border — a move leaders in Moscow say will lead to retaliation.

The Norwegian defense ministry confirmed Wednesday that it will move ahead with a plan to bolster the number of U.S. Marines rotating through the country to 700,Reuters reported. The plan, first announcedby Norway in June, has drawn sharp protests from Russian leaders who’ve called the move “clearly unfriendly.”

The larger rotations are expected to start in 2019 and will last up to five years. Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen has said the move isn’t directed at Russia, but to enhance NATO allies’ cold-weather training.

About 300 Marines have been rotating through Norway every six months since January 2017. It’s the first time foreign troops have been based in the country since World War II, according to Reuters. Members of the North Carolina-based 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, are deployed there now.

The Marines currently train west of the Swedish border in Oslo. Norwegian officials said in June that they want the larger Marine rotations to push north past the Arctic Circle to Setermoen, about 250 miles from the Russian border.

The Russian embassyhit back against that plan, warning that it could lead to “rising tensions and trigger an arms race, destabilizing the situation in northern Europe.”

“We consider [the plan] to be clearly unfriendly so they cannot go without consequences,” it added.

During a December stop in Norway, the Marine Corps‘ top general told the unit there at the time to always remain ready to fight. There could be a“big-ass fight” on the horizon, he added.

“I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said. ” … You’re in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence.”

— Military.com’s Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@ginaaharkins.

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Why Didn’t F-15s Shoot Down the Stolen Sea-Tac Airliner?

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When a rogue civilian airliner took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last Friday, the military responded with a multifaceted, coordinated effort between two F-15 Eagle pilots, said officials at North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Defense Department.

But days after the incident, it remains unclear why military officials and the F-15 pilots agreed not to shoot down the aircraft, given concerns the pilot might deliberately crash it into a populated area.

“We cannot speculate the various considerations and decision-making processes that led to the decision to not shoot, but can confirm that they did not,” Air Force Capt. Cameron Hillier, a NORAD spokesman, told Military.com on Wednesday. “While the fighters are armed during intercept missions as part of Operation Noble Eagle, the F-15 has a wide range of response options available, depending on the circumstances. They could shadow, intercept, escort or provide aid as required.”

Hillier said officials at NORAD, the Air Force’s air operations center, and officials “at many levels,” including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, monitored the situation as it unfolded Friday evening.

“Through it all, there was a call not to take the shot,” he said. An after-action report is in the works but will not be made public as it is classified, he added.

A Horizon Air employee, later identified as ground service agent Richard Russell, stole the empty aircraft Friday evening, flying it south of Seattle just before crashing into Ketron Island in the Puget Sound, roughly 35 miles south of the airport. Russell, 29, died in the crash.

Two F-15Cs from the Oregon Air National Guard‘s 142nd Fighter Wing launched in response to the stolen Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft, which belonged to Alaska Airlines. The Q400 can seat 76 passengers and four crew at full capacity.

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The fighters “were directed to fly supersonic to expedite the intercept,” NORAD said in a statement following the incident. The pilots attempted to redirect the aircraft over the Pacific Ocean, it added.

The F-15C can carry a mix of AIM-9L/M Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles and AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. It also has one internally mounted 20mm Gatling gun in the right-wing root, according to the Air Force.

The ideal resolution would have been for Russell to land the Q400 at a remote location, Hillier said. “Effort one was to get him on the ground, but the pilot gets a vote in that.”

An air traffic controller tried to convince Russell to land at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord, according to audio recordings that surfaced on social media. However, he continued flying and performing aerial acrobatics before ultimately crashing.

NORAD said that while the situation at Sea-Tac was “unique,” it is tasked with monitoring many intercepts every year as part of Operation Noble Eagle, the operation name for all air sovereignty and defense missions in North America.

“NORAD has conducted more than 1,800 intercepts of non-military aircraft since September 11, 2001,” Hillier said. “While the majority of intercepts are conducted in the United States, NORAD focuses on the defense of both the U.S. and Canada and draws on forces from both countries as mission requirements dictate.”

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@Oriana0214

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Pentagon to Study Marine Unit’s Ability to Respond to Crises in Africa

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Five years after the Marine Corps stood up a new land-based unit to respond to threats at U.S. embassies and other emergencies across Africa, the Pentagon’s top watchdog wants to make sure the force has what it takes to carry out its mission.

The Defense Department Inspector General’s office announced last week that it will immediately begin evaluating whether Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa can meet its operational requirements. The study comes months after the unit’s former commander recommended the land-based force be moved back to Navy ships.

The task force, which was created after the deadly 2012 attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, was meant to fill a gap since budget cuts left the Navy and Marine Corps without enough amphibious assault ships to regularly patrol the Mediterranean Sea. But the special-purpose unit was “not designed to be something in perpetuity,” said Col. Sean Salene, who led the response force for seven months last year.

“Re-establishing that presence in the Mediterranean as a more capable, larger-capacity force, we think would work better to meet all the demands that are out there,” Salene said in November. He has since been nominated for promotion to one-star.

The Marine Corps declined to comment on the inspector general’s study since it’s ongoing. But the service fully cooperates with all DoD inspections and evaluations, said Capt. Karoline Foote, a Marine spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

“Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa is uniquely tailored to meet the demands of the mission to which it is assigned,” Foote added. “… The flexible, expeditionary nature of this SPMAGTF makes it uniquely qualified to respond to a litany of mission sets, crises and limited contingencies in the absence of an amphibious ready group with an embarked Marine expeditionary unit.”

The unit, which includes about 1,000 Marines and sailors based in Spain and Italy, first deployed in 2013 — about eight months after the attack in Benghazi left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. In that incident, nearly 24 hours passed before any U.S. troops arrived in Libya to reinforce security, which led to harsh criticism of the response by the State Department and Pentagon.

Since then, the Marines with the crisis-response unit have evacuated State Department personnel from several diplomatic posts under duress, including from South Sudan and Libya in 2014.

Since most of the unit is based in Europe, though, reaching some areas on the vast African continent can be difficult. The Marines conducting the 2014 evacuation mission in South Sudan flew MV-22B Ospreys more than 4,000 miles from Spain to Juba, requiring mid-flight refueling from a KC-130 Super Hercules.

As the fight against the Islamic State has kicked up, both of those aircraft have been in high demand. The Marine Corps has stood up two more land-based crisis-response units: one that operates year-round in the Middle East and one that heads to Central America during hurricane season. Last year, the crisis response force for Africa saw its number of Ospreys and C-130s slashed in half, leaving it with six MV-22Bs and three transport tankers.

That, said Col. Martin Wetterauer — another of the unit’s former commanders, wouldn’t change the Marines’ ability to conduct their mission in Africa, but it would prevent them from carrying out multiple operations at once.

Operating from the sea as a MEU also removes the need for permission from partner nations to use airspace or stage gear on the ground for future missions, Salene added.

While conducting its evaluation, the inspector general’s team plans to speak to the defense secretary’s office for policy, the Joint Staff, Marine Corps headquarters, U.S. Africa Command, Marine Corps Forces Africa, personnel with Special Purpose Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa and others, according to a notice about its study. No timeline was given as to when the evaluation will wrap up.

Foote said the Marine crisis response force is designed to be expedient while still providing significant capabilities for crisis situations and other theater-security cooperation efforts in Africa.

“Its highly mobile organization allows the MAGTF to conduct limited crisis and contingency response operations to safeguard U.S. citizens and interests in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility,” she said.

— Military.com’s Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@ginaaharkins.

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No Changes to SDF Vetting Process after Syrian Guard Shot US Marine

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U.S. and coalition forces did not alter the screening process for vetting Syrian Democratic Forces after an SDF member shot a U.S. Marine in February at a remote Syrian outpost, according to a high-ranking Operation Inherent Resolve official.

A team tasked with investigating the Feb. 17 shooting, which left two bullet holes in the leg of Sgt. Cameron Halkovich, was unable to determine whether the incident was an insider attack.

Halkovich and another Marine were making a nighttime check of the base perimeter when an SDF member shot him with his AK-47, according to a story first reported by Task and Purpose.

Cpl. Kane Downey, the Marine accompanying Halkovich, shot and killed the gunman, applied first aid to Halkovich and carried him to the medical facility, Task and Purpose reported.

British Army Maj. Gen. Felix Gedney, deputy commander of strategy and support for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said Tuesday that the “tragic incident was an anomaly” and said he sees no need to change the process for screening individuals for the SDF.

“I don’t think we needed to. We have a very effective vetting force, and I don’t think we fully understand the motives behind what happened,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. “And I think most likely it was a tragic misunderstanding that led to the use of lethal force.”

An investigation into the incident, which was led by a U.S. Marine colonel, could not “conclusively determine” whether the SDF guard intentionally shot Halkovich, according to an Aug. 10 press release by U.S. Central Command.

It’s possible that the SDF guard negligently discharged his weapon, triggering the chain of events, Gedney said.

“The truth is we can’t be sure. We know the mechanics of what happened, but we don’t know the motives of what happened, and it is entirely likely that the incident was sparked by a negligent discharge at a point where there was high tension anyway,” he said.

“We in the military, on combat operations, are always high tension, and there is an element of friction that professional forces learn to deal with,” Gedney said. “And in this case, it seems like there may have been some form of tragic misunderstanding, which led to the actions and the loss of life.”

Halkovich received a Purple Heart for his injuries. Downey was awarded a Joint Service Commendation Medal, an award that was warranted under the circumstances, Gedney said.

Downey “responded very quickly to what he considered a threat, and he did that in an exceptional way, for which he was rewarded,” Gedney said.

— Military.com’s Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

— Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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Air Force Creates Board to Review ‘Active Shooter’ Reaction

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Troops’ Quick Response Saves Woman’s Life

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MOLOKAI, Hawaii — The first day of a no-cost health clinic provided by members of the U.S. military at the Mitchell Pauole Community Center started simply enough. The warmth of a bright sun was cooled by a warm breeze that meandered through the clinic. Community members slowly filtered in to the building to be seen by providers while others sat by waiting to be seen. All seemed like a quiet summer Sunday afternoon until a woman, who came to the clinic for a vision screening, began to say that something felt wrong. In fact, something was very wrong. The woman was having a cardiac episode, and she needed immediate medical assistance.

On August 12, service members participating in the Tropic Care Maui County 2018 Innovative Readiness Training mission reacted quickly and saved the woman’s life.

“This elderly lady came in for a vision screening,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Doug Sutton, a clinical nurse assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing. “Her past medical history was conducive with cardiovascular disease. As she was sitting there, she started clutching her chest. We ask her what’s wrong, and she says, ‘it feels like someone is stepping on my chest.’ And we know that’s one of the classic signs of a cardiac condition going on. We asked Col. Bray to come out, and he started assessing her.”

While she was being assessed, the woman looked ashen despite her typically tanned appearance.

“She didn’t look too good, to be honest,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Bryan Mathieson, a nurse practitioner assigned to the 181st Intelligence Wing. “Her face was as gray as her hair.”

Suddenly, the service members assigned to the Molokai clinic for the Tropic Care mission found themselves in the midst of a real-world, medical incident.

“It was a surprise visit,” said U.S. Air Force Col. William Bray, the commander of the 181st Medical Group of the 181st Intelligence Wing. “So we had to do what we could with what we had.”

Bray assessed the situation and determined the woman was having a cardiac episode. Bray was able to make that determination thanks to the actions of U.S. Air Force Maj. Bryan Mathieson and 2nd Lt. Brandon Wilmer.

“They both have experience in the emergency room,” said Bray. “Maj. Mathieson is the one who stepped up and gave her aspirin. His training kicked in. Both Maj. Mathieson and 2nd Lt. Wilmer were key because they are critically trained in the ER. Their natural instinct is to just roll.”

Mathieson and Wilmer’s actions played a critical role in helping the woman, who appeared to need immediate medical intervention.

“It happened just like that,” said Sutton. “They were calm and cool, and they just reacted. Everyone’s training kicked in, and they did their job perfectly. And the outcome was really good.”

The service members’ response to the incident did not stop at the clinic. U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Loh, a nurse whose mother grew up on Molokai, went with the woman to the hospital.

“It just wasn’t right to put them in a car and tell them to drive to the hospital,” said Sutton. “So we sent Cmdr. Loh along with her in the event they needed to stop the car and administer CPR.”

Loh’s presence was instrumental in facilitating the woman’s transfer to Molokai General Hospital.

“The woman and her daughter, who was accompanying the woman, identified with Cmdr. Loh from a cultural aspect,” said Sutton. “They were very comfortable with him. It seemed natural for him to gain that trust and build the interpersonal relationship, which made them agreeable to going to the hospital for the level of care she needed after she initially refused to go.”

Had the service members not reacted the way they did, the outcome could have been dire.

“She was having angina, which happens where the coronary arteries are squeezing and cause chest pain,” said Sutton. “She may have dropped over had she not been taken to the hospital.”

Thankfully, the woman received the care she needed.

“The daughter followed up, and the woman was released,” said Bray. “She’s doing well presently. We’re always happy when the outcome is positive.”

Despite the incident, the service members downplayed their role in taking care of the woman.

Medical professionals see people experiencing chest pain all the time in the ER, said 2nd Lt. Brandon Wilmer, a clinical nurse assigned to the 181st Intelligence Wing. It did not seem like anything out of the ordinary when it happened.

Service members were able to save a woman’s life despite limited resources at the temporary medical clinic, which had only been set up the day prior.

“We definitely put the ‘I’ in Innovative Readiness Training,” said Sutton. “We used the resources that we had quickly, efficiently, and effectively to get her to the additional level of care she needed.”

The service members, by relying on their military and civilian training, worked as a team to quickly access the situation and ensure the woman received the proper level of care. What started as a normal day became urgent in a moment, and the service members did what they know best: administer medical care to save a life.

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Prosecutor: Seabee Peeping Tom at mysterious SEAL base

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The Navy SEALs don’t like to talk about it, but there’s a military outpost for special operators in Somalia. It’s a staging point for their shadowy war against Al-Shabaab militants.

And according to military prosecutors, Somalia’s Galkayo also was the place where a Navy Peeping Tom recorded a fellow sailor and then lied to investigators to cover it up.

Utilitiessman 2nd Class Antoine Jemel Moore was arraigned Monday at a special court-martial in Norfolk for digitally recording the female sailor and then making a false official statement to authorities.

His legal troubles apparently began in mid-July in Somalia when he allegedly stuck his red-cased iPhone over a wall in the woman’s bedroom, according to the charge sheets.

Asked about it eight days later by authorities, Moore allegedly said that the “only photo I have of her … on my phone is of her holding a snake or a red worm,” a statement prosecutors contend was “totally false.”

Although Moore is assigned to Virginia Beach-based Naval Special Warfare Logistics Support Unit Two and his trial will take place in Norfolk, the court-martial was convened by Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, California.

“The alleged crimes occurred between or about July 11 and July 21, 2017,” said Group Two spokeswoman Lt. Katherine Koenig in a written statement emailed to Navy Times. “Naval Special Warfare Group Two takes these allegations seriously, and if the service member is found guilty, he will be held accountable within the laws and regulations under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

“The alleged actions of this service member do not represent the Navy’s or Naval Special Warfare’s high standards of personal and professional conduct.”

Moore did not return messages placed at his unit. He is not in pre-trial confinement.

Moore isn’t a special operator. In the Navy, utilities personnel install and repair plumbing, heating, fuel storage, water treatment and distribution systems, plus equipment for air conditioning, refrigeration and sewage disposal.

Moore enlisted in the Navy in 2008 and was assigned to the special warfare unit in mid-2016. He previously had served in Mississippi-based Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 74 and in the public works department at Rota, Spain.

His personal decorations include two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and a Good Conduct Medal.

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Lockheed Martin to Build Infrared Spacecraft for US Air Force

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Lockheed Martin to Build Infrared Spacecraft for US Air Force - Pentagon

US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin won nearly $3 billion to build three space vehicles to operate in geosynchronous high soil orbits (HEO) 22,000 miles above the planet, the Defense Department said in a press release.

“Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Sunnyvale, California, has been awarded a $2,935,545,188 not-to-exceed undefinitized contract for three Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Geosynchronous soil Orbit Space Vehicles,” the release said on Tuesday.

The contract encompasses requirements analysis, design, development and early manufacturing, the release added.

Work on the three modern infrared satellites will be performed in Sunnyvale in the US state of California over the next three years and is expected to be completed by April 30, 2021, the release added.

Last week, the Pentagon unveiled a report on establishing a Space Command as a separate branch of the US armed forces that the White House said would be in site by 2020.

According to the report, command capability development efforts will focus on global spy for missile targeting and other priorities. The report also identified China and Russia as America’s primary adversaries in space.

Congressmen Mike Rogers and Jim Cooper, high-ranking members of a House subcommittee on strategic forces, said the Pentagon’s modern report will be helpful in speeding up acquisitions of more advanced systems to boost US capabilities in space.

In June, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to start the creation of a modern space force despite a 1967 treaty signed by more than 100 nations banning the militarization of space.

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Russian Aerospace Forces Could Receive MiG-35 Fighters Ahead of Schedule

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Russian Aerospace Forces Could Receive MiG-35 Fighters Ahead of Schedule - UAC

Russian Aerospace Forces may be able to receive deliveries of MiG-35 jets ahead of schedule in a bid for the manufacturer to sustain up the rhythm and save money, the president of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) told Vedomosti newspaper.

“As for MiG-35, we will for the first time test the so-called model of ahead-of-schedule deliveries with the MoD. This will allow us to sustain up the rhythm and lower the expenses on the aircraft manufacturing, while the MoD will be able to receive the novel aircraft a slight earlier than the state defense orders schedule says,” Yury Slyusar was quoted as saying by Vedomosti.

According to Slyusar, the UAC is planning to deliver six MiG-35 fighters to the Russian MoD at the first stage. The first delivery will engage situation this year.

The Russian MoD said last year that it expected to start purchasing MiG-35 multirole jets in 2018. In May, Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation has begun flight tests of the next-generation MiG-35 jet.

The MiG-35 is a multipurpose generation 4++ fighter and an advanced derivative of the original MiG-29 fighter, featuring improved combat capability and flight performance characteristics. It is capable of speeds up to 2,700 kilometers per hour (1,700 miles per hour) and has a combat radius of 1,000 kilometers.

Last year, MiG Director General Ilya Tarasenko said that that the corporation would start mass production of MiG-35 fighter jets in the next two years following the conclude of testing, noting that the company was considering cooperation not only with the Russian Aerospace Forces but also with the foreign partners.

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