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Why are there so many helicopters over London today? Joe Biden’s military escort for his UK visit explained

The US President arrived in London on Sunday and met with the Prime Minister on Monday morning, ahead of a first meeting with Charles III since he became King

Dozens of helicopters were spotted flying over London on Sunday evening and Monday, as Joe Biden visits the UK on his first stop of a busy week in Europe.

The US President arrived in London on Sunday and met with the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, on Monday morning, ahead of a first meeting with Charles III since he became King.

Mr Biden did not attend King Charles’s coronation, with US First Lady, Jill Biden, attending instead.

Their meeting in Windsor features a royal salute, a viewing of US-related artifacts at Windsor Castle and afternoon tea.

What are the helicopters flying over London?

Marine One, the helicopter that is used to transport the President, was spotted arriving in London on Sunday evening and leaving for Windsor on Monday.

It was flanked by a fleet of US military helicopters. The fleet is operated by the HMX-1 Nighthawks. HMX-1 uses two unique aircraft types – the Sikorsky VH-3D Sea King and VH-60N Blackhawk.

The George W Bush Library states: “Marine One can be distinguished by its high-gloss, green and white paint scheme, referred to as ‘White Tops’. The Sea King is capable of transporting 14 passengers while the Blackhawk seats 11 passengers. The Blackhawk helicopters fold easily and can be loaded onto an Air Force C-17 transport aircraft. When the president travels, either domestically or internationally, the helicopters travel with him.

“Marine One always flies in a group with identical helicopters, sometimes as many as five. One helicopter carries the president, while the others serve as decoys for would-be assassins on the ground. Upon take-off, these helicopters begin to shift in formation regularly to obscure the location of the president. Every Marine One is equipped with state-of-the-art security and technology.”

What is Joe Biden doing in the UK?

Mr Biden and the King will use their meeting to bring attention to climate issues, hosting a forum focused on how to encourage private companies to engage in more clean energy efforts, specifically in developing economies.

The President last had formal talks with Charles, then Prince of Wales, at the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021. He also attended the state funeral of Charles’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September as well as a reception for heads of state at Buckingham Palace the night before the service.

The royal visit is paired with Mr Biden’s sixth meeting with Mr Sunak for talks on a range of global issues, including the war in Ukraine. The two nations are among the most stalwart defenders of Kyiv, and the UK has pushed the White House to take more aggressive steps in providing military aid to Ukraine.

The leader talks are meant to highlight the so-called enduring “special relationship” between the US and the UK. “We’ve only been meeting once a month,” Mr Biden joked as he declared the relationship between the two nations was “rock solid”. The Prime Minister added that their countries are “two of the firmest allies in that alliance”.

Before making his way to Windsor Castle, Mr Biden sat down with Mr Sunak at 10 Downing Street to discuss a number of matters, possibly including his decision this week to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions, a weapon that more than two-thirds of the members of the Nato military alliance have barred for their potential threat to civilian life.

Mr Biden has acknowledged that providing the bombs — which open mid-air and release smaller “bomblets” across a broad swath of land — was a “difficult decision” but he noted that the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition and that the weapons were necessary for them to continue to fight Russian forces.

“It took me a while to be convinced to do it,” he said in a CNN interview. “But the main thing is, they either have the weapons to stop the Russians from stopping the Ukrainian offensive through these areas, or they don’t. And I think they needed them.”

Mr Sunak has distanced himself from the US decision. “The UK is signatory to a convention which prohibits the production or use of cluster munitions and discourages their use,” he told broadcasters on Saturday. The US is not a party to that agreement.

“We will continue to do our part to support Ukraine against Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion, but we’ve done that by providing heavy battle tanks and most recently long-range weapons, and hopefully all countries can continue to support Ukraine,” Mr Sunak added.

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