The three Boeing 737-7HI(BBJ)s are some of the Indian Air Force's newest acquisitions, marking a new phase of a developing relationship with the United States in the fields of civil and military aviation.
The aircraft, christened “Rajdoot” — and what the cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks specifically refer to as “head of state aircraft” (155930, 153810, 155283: confidential and secret) — are in active service with the Indian Air Force (IAF). The first was inducted into the IAF's AHQ Communication Squadron in 2009.
The type is based on ‘Air Force One' — a Boeing 747 aircraft that the United States President uses — and is equipped with special communication and electronic “countermeasure” systems. It includes a protection suite and chaff dispensers to ward off missile threats, a secure satellite and a Very High Frequency (VHF) communication suite, and other security systems.
After Boeing built the first of the three VVIP aircraft for India, its 100th BBJ, it was moved to PATS Aircraft in Delaware (which handles special aircraft modification jobs) to incorporate ‘Air Force One' features — a stateroom, a conference room, a secure communications centre, and a seating area for 48 people.
The key feature is the military equipment needed to safeguard VVIPs on board from foes and protect the aircraft when out on critical missions.
In simple terms, the American equipment, which is believed to be an ‘advanced version of the AN/AAQ-24 LAIRCM (Large Aircraft Infra-Red Counter Measures,' detects hostile action, that is, missiles, or enemy fire directed towards or homing in on the aircraft. The suite revolves around an infrared system that tracks and uses a counter-measure against the threat.
It ‘electronically paints an image' of the aircraft, which diverts a homing missile towards the ghost electronic image. If the specifications and frequencies used by the equipment are made available to an enemy, they can be countered.
The aircraft is also fitted with equipment that allows a VVIP to communicate with a ground based command centre through encrypted satellite channels. This has been envisaged keeping in mind a situation like a war.
In its report for the year 2006-07, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) criticised the purchase of the third aircraft. It called it “avoidable” because the three aircraft would not be used for international travel, “necessitating the use of Air India aircraft with all its adverse consequences.”
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)