WASHINGTON The US State Department on Wednesday approved the sale of self-protection equipment to India for use on two Boeing 777 aircraft that are being modified for VIP transport purposes.
The self-protection equipment, which are called Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) self-protection suites, will cost around $190 million. The LAIRCM system consists of sensors, electronic warfare equipment and high-energy lasers, which work in an integrated manner to protect the host aircraft from 'heat-seeking' missiles that home in on a target's infra-red signature.
Similar equipment is used on the two Boeing 747 aircraft that carry the US president and are referred to by their call sign 'Air Force One'.
In March 2018, the Narendra Modi government had announced that two Boeing 777 aircraft, originally bought for Air India, were being purchased from the national carrier and modified at a cost of approximately Rs 4,500 crore for VIP transport purposes.
The US State Department's approval for the LAIRCM equipment for India will now need to be formally cleared by the US Congress, after which commercial negotiations with New Delhi will begin for a sale to be concluded.
The two Boeing 777s, which will carry the president, vice-president and prime minister, will have features such as VIP enclosures and press conference facilities as well as missile protection. The two aircraft, being modified in the US, are expected to return to India by the end of 2019, according to reports.
The prime minister, president and vice-president currently use Boeing 747 aircraft from Air India for trips to distant overseas locations. Unlike the Boeing 747, the Boeing 777s being modified for VIP service can fly up to 20 hours without need for refuelling and can fly non-stop to the US.
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