India’s ‘Desi Air Force One’

India’s ‘Desi Air Force One’ to ferry the President and the PM on long-haul flights is finally getting ready. Two new Boeing 777s are being retrofitted with some of the world’s most advanced security gizmos, including missile warning and counter-measure dispensing systems as well as encrypted satellite communication facilities.

These soon-to-be “Air India One” or “Indian Air Force One” aircraft — the latter if AI is privatised — will be close to the US President’s Air Force One, the iconic “flying Oval Office”, in terms of security. On India’s request, the US state department has now approved the “foreign military sale” of two B777 “large aircraft infrared countermeasures self-protection suites for an estimated cost of $190 million” to India.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the US by helping to strengthen the US-India strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defence partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region,” said the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency.

The aim of the LAIRCM programme is to protect large aircraft from man-portable or shoulder-fired missiles. Once installed, the LAIRCAM system increases crew-warning time, decreases false alarm rates and automatically counters advanced intermediate range missile systems. It also automatically counters advanced intermediate range missiles with no action required by the crew, with the pilot being simply informed that a missile threat was detected and jammed.

In other words, the robust defence systems include “radar warning receivers”, which basically sound an alert if a hostile radar “paints” the aircraft before letting loose missiles, and “missile-approach warning systems”. Advanced electronic counter-measures on board the aircraft will be able to jam enemy radars, along with defence systems geared to shoot metal chaff or flares to throw off-track radar-guided or heat-seeking missiles.

The two Indian B777-300 extended range aircraft, which Boeing had delivered to AI in January 2018, are currently in the US with Boeing Defence for being retrofitted with the latest security and communication systems. Expected to be in India by year-end, they will replace the over 26-year-old B747 jumbo jets currently used by the President, VP and PM for long international flights.

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