Prime Minister Narendra Modi may well be the most protected VVIP of the country, but the Air India fleet of three business jets that fly the VVIPs may not be entirely secured. According to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, the three VVIP business jets procured by the IAF have been flying without a secured “on-board communication system” since August 2015.
“The requirement of the on-board secured communication system was yet to materialise (as of) August 2015, thereby forcing the three VVIP aircraft inducted in IAF between August 2008 and January 2009 to fly without the essential prerequisite,” the report has observed.
According to the report, the Video Tele Conferencing (VTC) system on the three Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) VVIP aircraft, that the IAF had planned to procure from the USA in 2005 was unencrypted — unable to prevent unauthorised access — and therefore unsecured. So in 2007, project ‘Meghdoot’ was sanctioned to DRDO’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) for the development of indigenous VTC system at Rs 9.76 crore.
The sanction provided for project monitoring once in six months by a Steering Committee and once in three months by the Project Monitoring and Review Committee.
The report stated that CAIR completed the design and development of the system in March 2009, and a supply order for the hardware of the VTC system was placed with Bharat Electronics Limited for Rs 6.61 crore. The report, however, observes that after completion, the Scientific Analysis Group of DRDO — the unit overseeing the project — changed the security solution norms for the aircraft, citing “vulnerability” of the planes. The revised system was fitted on the three aircraft and the IAF also carried out user trials in May 2013, which observed an overheating problem in the equipment.
Between 2014 and 2015, all the three BBJ aircraft have undertaken 239 sorties involving 442.03 flying hours.