On the heels of the Paris terror attack, as leaders from around the world landed at Turkey’s Antalya airport  to attend the G20 conference, a pre-summit marquee event created a flutter back in India. Air India One, the Indian Prime Minister’s home in the skies, had landed a parking spot near Air Force One, the US Air Force aircraft deployed for the American President, presumably the most powerful person in the world.  

It’s no secret that India is obsessed with the US. So much so that according to news reports, early this year the Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, said that India will acquire two Boeing 777-300 (extended range) aircraft from Air India to build a desi equivalent of Air Force One.

But what does Air Force One have that Air India One doesn’t? A lot, actually.

Flying Oval office

Air Force One is as tall as a six-storey building. According to reports in the US media, the three-level aircraft dubbed by many as the “flying Oval Office” is a custom Boeing 747-200B. It houses a conference room, a gym, private quarters for the  President and offices for senior staff members, a medical operating room, a dining room, press area, two food-preparation galleys equipped to provide up to 100 meals, and multi-frequency radios (for air-to-air and air-to-ground communication). The total carpet area spans about 4,000 sq ft.

Its body can withstand a nuclear bomb blast from the ground and has armoured windows. The mirror-ball defence technology fitted in the wings scrambles infrared missile guiding systems. Likewise, flares, used to counter an infrared heat-seeking surface-to-air missile or air-to-air missile, are hidden in the wings to throw off enemy missiles. The Air India One, a Boeing 747-400, on the other hand, is a newer and bigger aircraft with a lighter frame. But the edge ends there. As Air Vice-Marshal (retired) Manmohan Bahadur of the Centre for Air Power Studies, pointed out, the Air India One is a simple commercial airliner without any self-protection systems. “All it can do to stay safe is stay far away from conflict zones,” he added. While it has the basics for carrying a VVIP – a suite, office and satellite phones – Air India One doesn’t have any of the sophistication of its American counterpart.

Little wonder then that India is keen to up its game in the skies. The soon-to-be acquired Boeing 777-300, apart from other features, will be fitted with advanced self-protection suites to jam and beat hostile incoming missiles and encrypted satellite communication facilities.