Two long-haul Boeing-777 aircraft with missile defence systems that will serve on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Air India One fleet will reach India in June 2020, two people familiar with the development said. The aircraft will be the first set of planes that will only be used by PM Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu.
The three dignitaries fly on Air India’s Boeing B747 planes that the state-run airline deploys on commercial flights. These are temporarily reconfigured for the dignitaries when they need to travel; the call sign also changes to “Air India One.” These two aircraft, which are being configured at a Boeing facility in Dallas, will be on par with the US President’s Air Force One in so far as security measures are concerned, according to South Block officials who requested anonymity. These can fly between India and the US without having to stop for refuelling.
The Boeing B747 planes that are chartered from Air India for use of the three dignitaries are more than two decades old. The one that President Kovind was flying on his three-nation tour last month, which developed a snag in Switzerland’s Zurich, has been in service for 26 years.
The new planes, South Block officials said, have been configured to give PM Modi and the other dignitaries some generous office space, meeting rooms and a wide array of communication systems.
These will also have the Self-Protection Suites (SPS) used in the US President’s Air Force One. The protection system includes infrared countermeasures, an integrated defensive electronic warfare suite and a counter-measure dispensing system. These can jam enemy radar frequencies and divert heat-seeking missiles by disturbing their guidance systems.
This warning and countermeasures system uses multiple sensors to provide full spatial coverage and automatically counters advanced intermediate range missile systems with no action required by the crew. The pilot will be informed that a threat missile was detected and jammed.
The US administration had announced its decision to give India access to these defence systems for the special aircraft in February 2019 as a special measure. These are estimated to have cost New Delhi $190 million.