PM Narendra Modi’s special aircraft, landing next June, may be called Air Force One
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two brand-new special aircraft that will reach India next year may be placed under the Indian Air Force rather than Air India, two South Block officials said, citing a proposal that is under discussion in the government.
The two long-haul Boeing 777-300ER aircraft are being customised at Boeing’s Dallas facility and are expected to arrive in New Delhi in June 2020, complete with missile defence systems that will make the aircraft as secure as the Boeing 747-200B used by US President Donald Trump.
It will be India’s first dedicated aircraft for the three dignitaries - the President, Vice President and Prime Minister - who usually travel abroad on an aircraft chartered from the state-run airline, Air India. For shorter trips, they use planes from Indian Air Force’s Communications Squadron’s VVIP fleet.
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The Boeing 777 aircraft will also be the first Indian plane to be equipped with Special Protection Suite that can jam enemy radar frequencies, divert heat-seeking missiles and intercept advanced intermediate range missile systems without intervention by the crew.
In a notification to the Congress this year, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the missile defence system deal, worth US $ 190 million, would “facilitate a more robust capability into areas of increased missile threats”.
It is this missile defence system on-board the new aircraft that could necessitate placing them under the control of the Indian Air Force rather than Air India. As it is, the government is in the process of divesting its share in the Air India.
A South Block official said a firm decision on the agency that will take over the two Boeing 777 aircraft is yet to be taken.
If it goes to the IAF as is being discussed, a second official said, it could mean that the call sign of the prime ministerial aircraft also changes from Air India One to Air Force one.
The government would, of course, have to pay Air India for the two planes that were part of the 2005 decision to buy 68 aircraft from Boeing. The country’s top auditor, comptroller and auditor general, had criticised the deal in its 2011 report, underscoring that it had imposed an “undue long-term financial burden on the carrier”.
In recent months, central investigating agencies have also stepped up their probe into the decision.