George Bush will soon have company as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a world leader who will have his own office thousands of feet up in the sky. The USA citizens call this plane as “Air Force One” or the “Flying Oval Office” and what do we Indians would call it? Hawa Daftar?
Costing about 940 crores or an estimate of US$ 235 million, the first of three wide-bodied VVIP Business Jets, ordered in October 2005, will touch down at Palam to join Indian Air Force elite Communication Squadron, tasked with ferrying VVIPs, in the second half of June.
The second and third VVIP jets will come after a gap of three months each. Three sets of IAF aircrews (with two pilots, a navigator and an engineer in each) have already been trained in Seattle and Texas to fly them.
Moreover, over 100 ground technicians are also undergoing training in batches in US to handle these specially-configured planes, which come with sophisticated self-protection suites (SPS), encrypted communication facilities and state-of-the-art navigation aids.
50 other passengers can join the PM, who will have a full-fledged executive office and bedroom to him, apart from a secure communication chamber and facilities to host around this highly customized aircraft.
While the three VVIP jets in themselves come for Rs 735 crore, another Rs 205 crore has been spent on equipping them with SPS to take care of hostile missiles and other threats. The SPS will include ‘radar warning receivers’ to alert the plane that a hostile radar has ‘painted’ it and a missile may be on the way.
The aircraft will also have ‘missile-approach warning systems’ and ‘counter-measure dispensing systems’.
This will help the planes take automated evasive action by shooting metal chaff to “fool” radar-guided missiles or flares to throw heat-seeking missiles off the track. There will also be enough advanced electronic counter-measures on board to jam hostile radars.
Unfortunately unlike the Air Force One, which can fly halfway around the world without refueling, the range of the Indian version is limited to 3,000 nautical miles. It cannot fly directly to London non-stop and hence it has come in for some sharp criticism in the latest Comptroller and Auditor General report, which had slammed the UPA for the VVIP jets’ deal since it “deviated from laid-down procedures and well-recognized norms of propriety”. Hence this defect would necessitate continued use of Air India aircraft with all its adverse consequences.
Congratulations to India on this huge step.