NEW DELHI: The desi “Air Force One”, equipped with advanced missile defence measures, will finally be ready to fly the President or Prime Minister by the middle of next year. India has now inked the around $190 million (₹ 1,300 crore) deal with the US for two self-protection suites (SPS), which will be retrofitted on the two custom-built Boeing-777 aircraft earlier acquired for long-haul VVIP travel.

The two wide-bodied B-777s, with their fully-integrated advanced missile approach warning sensors, defensive electronic warfare systems, infra-red counter-measures, digital radio frequency Jammers and other such contraptions under the overall SPS, will be akin to the US President’s iconic Air Force One or the “flying Oval office”.

Sources on Thursday said the government-to-government deal for the two SPS was signed at the time President Donald Trump with his Air Force One was in India on February 24-25. It was in February 2019 that the US state department had notified the proposed “foreign military sale” of the SPS “to protect two Boeing-777 head-of-state aircraft” but negotiations delayed the inking of the contract till now.

“The two aircraft were slated for delivery in June 2020 after customisation at the Boeing facility in Dallas. But the SPS retrofitting in them will obviously take much more time,” said a source.

Moreover, the B-777s are set to be placed under the IAF’s control now, though the original plan was that Air India would own and operate them. A few IAF pilots have already being trained to fly the VVIP aircraft, and will take over operations from Air India pilots in the long run. With the SPS and other sophisticated systems, the aircraft will also have a military classification. “The call-sign is likely to be Indian Air Force One, not Air India One,” said the source.