One safe ride for the PM: the US government clears the sale of VIP business jets to India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 10 July 2008

One safe ride for the PM: the US government clears the sale of VIP business jets to India

(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 After a senior MoD official was sent to Washington to iron out the language, the offensive words have been replaced by the more neutral phrase, “mutual consultations”.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.


  1. 1. I suppose an IAF team has diligently monitored the fitting out of the Aircraft to ensure there are no Listening devices installed by the user as in the case of the Chinese.
    2. How secure is the communications equipment? Can we change the codes so that they will be accessible to India and only India (and not the Americans)
    3. I suppose it would be foolish to ask if the BBJ is secure from US origin anti aircraft missiles, (AMRAAM is with Pakistan, The Talibs and the Pakistanis have some Stingers left over)
    4. Is the range adequate to allow the PM to fly directly to the USA? I think not. There is no inflight refuelling I guess.

    Perhaps a Boeing 777 version would have had the required adequate space and the range required for the mega sized delegations that Superpower India's PM's Delegations will be expected to have in the future.

  2. How effective / important is the Pilot's HUD in such a large aircraft.

  3. Very valid points raised by anon @ 11 July 2008 12:39. Ajay, Can you get some clarification from someone in the loop

  4. Is the end user physical verification to find whether the aircraft protection equipment has been taken out or to check whether or not the listening devices have been compromised

  5. 1. There can be no foolproof guarantees that the aircraft is not bugged. That's always a hazard in buying foreign electronics.

    2. There can also be no guarantees about an "off switch" which can be activated by the OEMs in order to disable protection when they like.

    3. Range is 11,000 km. The PM will have to refuel. No inflight refuelling.

    4. A Boeing 737 is more than enough for the PM right now. Let's become a superpower first; let's not have 300 million people living below the poverty line and the highest rate of child malnutrition in the world. Once we get there, then let's implementing grandiose schemes to have our PM flying in 777s.

  6. Can such civilian aircraft carry air-defence missile like R-77 which can supposedly shoot down air-2-air missiles.
    I think 747 has enough space for several such missiles if PM's aircraft is engaged with a formidable SAM or AAM. Is there any diplomatic problem with carrying such active self-defense measures in a VVIP aircraft? New Sterla-E has supposedly good ECCMs.


    On page 477 he states that “ Abbasi was the man who had been removed from his command in the Kargil area of Kashmir…………after having undertaken an unauthorized and costly foray into Indian held territory in 1990”.Now this comes straight from a man who repeatedly claims nearly total access to all direct participants.

    Now the facts of the above situation. Poor General Abbasi had done nothing in Kargil.

    First the use of the word Kargil by Shuja Nawaz is unwarranted and irrelevant and above all totally out of context! Abbasi’s command was not just Kargil only but a much larger area i.e. the entire Northern Areas of Pakistan.

    Second the foray he Shuja refers to was not launched in 1990 but in 1992 when Shuja Nawaz’s very own brother was the army chief!

    Third the foray was not as unauthorized as claimed by Nawaz. Abbasi was commanding the FCNA, part of 10 Corps Rawalpindi and his corps commander Lieutenant General G.M Malik,a man of extreme ambition had a tacit understanding with Abbasi that in case he succeeds he was a part of the team and if Abbasi failed G.M did not knew about the attack ! A very typical and known phenomenon in all armies, organizations and bureaucracies all over the world.

    Fourthly poor Abassi’s unauthorized foray was not in Kargil but in Siachen an area far away from Kargil.

    Lastly Abbasi had been packed off to the FCNA in late 1990 a time when snow made any foray in Kargil or Siachen impossible. This happened once Abbasi expressed disagreement with the then corps commander 4 Corps Lahore Alam Jan Mehsud.The incident was narrated by this scribe to then Brigadier Salahuddin Tirmizi (later lieutenant general).Alam Jan thought that Abbasi should be posted to FCNA where he could catharsize his spirit of Jihad on those snowy rocky icy pinnacles of Siachen Glacier.Catharsize he did, with disastrous and bloody results in 1992.Not 1990 as this privy to inside sources in the army claims. And that too when his brother was army chief.A sad reflection on how an operation was mounted by an overzealous divisional commander, with secret authorization of his direct superior corps commander, while keeping a so called professional army chief in absolute darkness ! A sad but logical end to the career of Abbasi who was a more upright and internally motivated general officer and shoulders above most of the general officers that I saw in my army service.

    Shuja Nawaz repeats the above assertion again on page.509 when he states that “among the many attempts to gain advantage at Kargil was a failed attempt in 1990 by……Major General Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi”.

    On the same page again Shuja once again repeats the same totally incorrect assertion “without clearance from the army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg,Abbasi launched an attack on the LOC” .Poor Beg the target practicing range of Shuja Nawaz had no connection with Abbasi’s ill fated attack in 1992 ! Beg had retired in August 1991.

    Burhanuddin Rabbani promoted or demoted to Mullah Burhanuddin Rabbani by Shuja Nawaz on page.479 was the president of Afghanistan in 1992 and not “subsequent” to 1994 as stated by Shuja.

    In footnote.2 on page.502 Shuja Nawaz has forcibly thrust the honour of being Chief of Staff 12 Corps on General Kakar, when he states that Kakar served as Chief of Staff of 12 Corps at Quetta under Rahimuddin (famous for not joining his command in Chamb in 1971 thus making his then commanding general Major General Eftikhar state that he would court martial this man after the war. To Rahimuddin’s good luck Eftikhar embraced martyrdom in the war and Rahimuddin survived).This is a factual error as 12 Corps at Quetta did not exist at that time. This corps was raised somewhere in 1985 when Rahimuddin was already the chairman joint chiefs.

    In the same footnote Shuja Nawaz states that Kakar was wounded at Chawinda in 1965 war .When the 1965 war started Kakar was at intelligence school in Murree.This assertion of Kakar being wounded while possible is questionable .Its possible that Kakar joined his unit in later part of the war.

    On page.508 Nawaz states that “one of the first actions in 1948 Kashmir war was the securing of Kargil heights by Pakistani forces.This is a serious factual error. The first major action of the 1947-48 Kashmir war was the attack on Muzaffarabad in October 1947 and the seizing of heights near Kargil happened much later in May 1948 by the Eskimo Force of Gilgit Scouts under Captain Shah Khan (later an air force officer).As a matter of fact Kargil itself was captured by the Gilgit Scouts and they had then captured Zojila Pass and advanced across it. But all this happened much later after October 1947.

    Good in details, written from the relative calm and safety of USA, this book possibly written with good intentions, got lost in the woods of details and failed to present the broad picture.

    Many Bhagwans of military history reviewed it and failed to find any fault with it!


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