IAF strengthening VIP fleet with new Embraers
New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is strengthening its VIP fleet with four new Embraer 145 aircraft and AW101 chopppers.
The IAF`s Delhi-based Communication Squadron, which has just got the first lot of three VIP role helicopters, already has four Embraer 135s. The newer aircraft, being acquired from Brazil, will have some security features similar to those in the three Boeing Business Jets (BBJs) acquired in 2009 but not the same ones.
The IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, told India Strategic magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) in an interview recently that the duties of IAF`s VIP unit, designated Air Headquarters Communication Squadron, had increased manifold and that the case to acquire the Embraers was now being processed.
Besides VIPs and ministers, the Embraer aircraft are also used for Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
The aircraft can be configured for presidential or prime minister`s use if the number of officials required on board is small. Otherwise, they use the BBJ, which is equipped with an office and a bedroom for the president and the prime minister in a separate enclosure.
The BBJs also have some specific hi-tech protection equipment as on the US President`s Air Force One, which the US government agreed to share on the condition that their technology would not be shown or disclosed to any other country or entity.
India signed the EEUM (Enhanced End User Monitoring) agreement in this regard, stipulating the BBJs` safekeeping in well-guarded areas to prevent unauthorized access.
Aircraft meant for VVIPs in any case are secured by Special Protection Group (SPG) commandos in addition to the IAF personnel.
Notably, the Communication Squadron already has four Embraer 135s, while Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is acquiring a couple of Embraer 145s for hosting indigenous surveillance and electronic warfare systems. Two of these aircraft are under test. The Border Security Force (BSF) also has one Embraer 135.
The idea of commonality in platforms is to ensure easy maintenance and service support.
As for the helicopters, the IAF has been using the Soviet vintage Mi-8s so far. But with the advent of the new AW 101 helicopters from the Italian-British Agusta Westland, the old machines would gradually be phased out.
The company ferried three AW 101s in chartered Russian AN 124 heavy-lift aircraft - designed to carry oversized cargo - to New Delhi in the second half of December 2012. Their flight trials should begin within the first half of January under the supervision of the SPG, India Strategic reported.
After some trial runs, as per the laid down procedures, the first flight of the helicopter with either the president or the prime minister on board would be undertaken shortly.
The IAF has ordered eight AW 101s in VIP configuration and four more for support and cargo. All of them should be delivered by or before September 2013.
It may be noted that whenever aircraft or helicopters for the president`s or prime minister`s use are acquired, the requirements are vetted by the Prime Minister`s Office and the SPG in detail.
For the VIP helicopter for instance, when its requirement was first considered some 10 years ago, there was only one helicopter - a Eurocopter EC 145 interestingly - that was thought fit as it could fly up to 18,000 feet. The SPG wanted the shell to be strengthened, which would have added weight to the machine and made it difficult to operate.
In 2003, the then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra felt that the choice should be widened, and the Prime Minister`s Office (PMO) asked the defence ministry and the IAF to reframe the Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQRs) by reducing the height requirement.
The Russian Kamov was disqualified on technical grounds, leaving Sikorsky S 92 Super Hawk and AW 101 in the fray. The latter won on both technical and financial merit, and an agreement was signed in February 2010 for 560 million euro ($827 million) for 12 helicopters, inclusive of training costs.
Incidentally, the same AW 101, with three engines, was also selected by the US government for the president in a competitive bid, though President Obama shelved the proposal citing fund shortage. There was also political opposition to the idea of buying a foreign-made helicopter, and the US president continues to use the older, reliable Sikorsky helicopters maintained by US Marines.
CEO Giuseppe Orsi of Italy`s Finmeccanica group, which holds the majority stake in Agusta Westland, told India Strategic during the Farnborough Air Show in July 2012 that the company was training a small group of Indian pilots, engineers and technicians at the Agusta Westland facility as part of the agreement. This core group would then train other pilots and maintenance staff as required in India itself.
Eight to 10 pilots of the Communication Squadron, who were sent to Britain, are also returning home after finishing their simulator, ground and flight training.
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