Desi Air Force One is here

Quietly, very quietly, the desi version of the US President’s ‘Air Force One’ has landed. From now on, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can breathe easy, as he is getting a new, highly-secure office high in the sky, much like George W Bush.The first of three wide-bodied VVIP Boeing Business Jets, ordered in October 2005 at a cost of Rs 937 crore, touched down at the Palam airport to join IAF’s elite Communication Squadron, which ferries President, PM and other top dignitaries. “The other two should also come, one after the other, in another 45 days,” said an official.The highly-customised planes, which come with sophisticated self-protection suites (SPS), encrypted satellite communication facilities and advanced navigation aids, will ensure the PM and his entourage can fly in far more comfortable, and more importantly, secure environs than ever before. The delivery of the VVIP planes initially scheduled for June was somewhat delayed due to Washington’s insistence on proper safeguards for the hush-hush security equipment fitted on them like the SPS.With India on course to sign the End-Use Verification Agreement (EUVA) and the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) with US, the fears have been allayed now.As per US laws, a country procuring American defence equipment must negotiate pacts like EUVA and CISMOA to minimise security risks to US and its allies as well as ensure compliance with sensitive technology control requirements.“The two pacts need to be signed since we are buying a lot of defence equipment from US now, like the deal finalized for six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft for $962.45 million,” said a senior official.Though not as sophisticated as Bush’s Air Force One, the three Indian planes do have potent systems to tackle incoming “hostile” missiles or other airborne threats. While the three VVIP jets in themselves come for Rs 734 crore, another Rs 202.93 crore have been spent on equipping them with SPS ordered directly through the US government.The SPS includes “radar warning receivers” to alert the plane that a hostile radar has “painted” it and a missile may be on the way. The “missile-approach warning systems” and “counter-measure systems” will then help the planes take automatic evasive action by shooting metal chaff to “fool” radar-guided missiles and flares to throw heat-seeking missiles off the track.The aircraft, can fool an incoming missile through the projection of a “ghost image”. There are also enough advanced electronic counter-measures on board to jam hostile radars.Three sets of IAF air crew, with two pilots, a navigator and a flight engineer in each, over 100 ground technicians have already been trained in Seattle and Texas to handle the VVIP jets.The PM will have a full-fledged executive office and bedroom to himself on board, apart from a secure communication chamber and facilities to host around 50 guests in the specially-configured aircraft.Moreover, unlike Air Force One which can fly halfway around the world without refuelling, the Indian version’s range is limited to 3,000 nautical miles.

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