(Photographs: the Boeing 737-700 aircraft exterior, cockpit, and an interior. The interior of each VIP aircraft is customised according to the wishes of the buyer. Pictures of the Indian VIP jets are not yet available)
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th July 08
The Prime Minister of India’s next official trip abroad will be far more comfortable than Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan. Not necessarily in terms of peace of mind; the political situation back home could still be fluid. What is certain though is that the PM and his entourage will fly in far more luxurious, safe and functional conditions. The US government has cleared the delivery to India of the first of three custom-built, high-security VIP aircraft.
The delivery of these, the first of which is scheduled for the end of July, was held up by Washington’s insistence on adequately safeguarding the top-secret security and communications equipment that is fitted on board. This military equipment --- which includes radar and missile warning receivers, and infra-red jamming equipment --- is similar to what protects the US President and his top officials when they fly into Baghdad and Kabul.
India had strongly resisted the US government’s insistence on intrusive “end user agreements” or EUAs, which gave the US Air Force (USAF) the right to demand entry into the military bases where the VIP aircraft were stationed, and to check that the equipment hadn’t been passed onto any other user. Indian objections to the use of words like “inspections” and “verification” and “confiscation” in the US draft EUA had threatened to postpone, or even derail, delivery of the aircraft.
Now, top-level Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources reveal that the matter has been resolved. After a senior MoD official was sent to Washington to iron out the language, the offensive words have been replaced by the more neutral phrase, “mutual consultations”.
While the US has accepted the Indian draft, the USAF will still have the right to verify that India is not misusing the high-tech military equipment. Top MoD officials point out that New Delhi’s interests are identical to Washington’s in ensuring the safety and security of the protective equipment.
The uprated 737-700 aircraft has been manufactured by a joint venture between Boeing and General Electric, called Boeing Business Jets (BBJs). India’s first VIP 737 is the 100th aircraft built by BBJ.
The “green” (unfurnished) aircraft, which was handed over by BBJ in Seattle in Dec 2006, was then fitted out with a stateroom, a conference room, a communications centre, a living-cum-sleeping space for the VIP and seating for 48 lesser personages. A company called PATS Aircraft did this in Delaware. Such luxury jets are available to anyone who can pay the equivalent of Rs 300 crores.
What money cannot buy is the military equipment needed to safeguard VIPs from missiles fired from the ground and from other aircraft. The Indian VIP jets will be fitted with American equipment --- believed to be an advanced version of the AN/AAQ-24 LAIRCM (Large Aircraft Infra-Red Counter Measures) --- which quickly detects a missile fired towards the aircraft. It then electronically paints a ghost image of the aircraft some distance away, which diverts the missile towards the ghost image, saving the actual aircraft. If the specifications and frequencies used by this equipment are made available to an enemy, it can be countered or jammed.
The VIP aircraft is also fitted with communications equipment, which will allow the PM to communicate with command facilities in New Delhi through satellite channels that cannot be monitored or jammed.
When contacted, Boeing India declined to comment on the sale.