This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
Sterile Airspace, police helicopters in the air, traffic lanes clean of vehicles, these are just some of the security arrangements that will make up the huge security operation planned for the upcoming visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Israel.
No doubt the presence of the presidential plane, ‘Air Force 1’ will attract the most attention with its presence at Ben Gurion Airport. Immediately following the attack on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001the Secret Service decided to move President Bush to a U.S. Air Force base in Florida. When Air Force 1 arrived at that base the Secret Service breathed with relief. That decision was made even before they knew what had really happened in New York and Washington. The important point was that they could be sure that the president was based in one of the safest places for him.
The current Air Force One took form in much the same way as any regular 747 aircraft. The difference with this 747 was that Boeing produced the aircraft according to the exacting specifications of the White House. The plane is equipped with special systems and special protection measures. The aircraft was fitted to allow the U.S. President to continue to command the U.S. armed forces even in the event of an attack on Washington, DC.
The aircraft has a sophisticated satellite communications system enabling operations worldwide. It is also equipped with the necessary systems to protect its occupants from the weapons held by various terrorist organizations. The fuel tanks provide Air Force 1 with a greater than usual range and there are special arrangements for communicating with all the basic U.S. nuclear missiles.
The President of the U.S. actually has access to two identical planes. Both 747-400 aircraft are prepared at all times for departure on very short notice and always have a full team nearby. Only experts can tell the external differences between the Presidential aircraft and an ordinary 747. Many antennas are attached to the fuselage and defense systems are installed under the wings against shoulder fired missiles. Its’ main staircase is an integral part of the plane allowing the plane to function at any airport location without external assistance.
The aircrafts interior provides the President with a command post, seats for members of his entourage, as well as a private bedroom with direct access to the Presidents work room. The interior is equipped with all modern media and offers the President a fully equipped communications room with telephone lines and cellular service covering calls to be made around the entire world.
Why is the plane so secure? Its’ body contains several sensitive and bulletproof areas and windows may also be made of bulletproof glass. If a shoulder missile were to be launched at the plane, a special defense system would enter operation preventing heat sensors of a missile from locking on it as well as its engines. But that is not all. The plane also offers resistant against ‘electromagnetic pulse’ phenomenon created when a nuclear explosion occurs and could paralyze electric systems.
Air Force 1 also has a system for aerial refueling, allowing it to actually fly for days without landing. Every time the aircraft takes off the crew maintains a plan allowing for in-flight refueling by aerial tankers of the U.S. Air Force. Other systems installed in the airplane: allow the President to continue managing the affairs of the U.S. in the event Washington and other places were hit hard, the aircraft systems are connected by not less than 380km of electric cables, contains sufficient food and water in the event of extended flights, and maintains a medical team on board for every flight including a well-equipped treatment room with Satellite video communications links to most medical centers for purposes of video conferencing.
Full details on the President plane are confidential. The White House has not responded to speculation that Air Force 1 contains a system that would allow the President to get out of the plane in the event of a special situation. There are rumors that the trunk of the plane has what is called a ‘Capsule Extract ‘, a protected capsule meant to extract the President along with a few key people from the aircraft to the ground in the event the plane suffered damage and could not continue flying or land safely.
The flight plans of Air Force 1 are handled as classified information. The plane has a special identification and reports its presence only when it approaches airspace of a particular country. Tracking of the plane is constant through a satellite system so that the exact location can be determined every second of its flight. In the event of an emergency rescue efforts would begin immediately whether the landing would take place on land or at sea.
The American planners of Air Force 1 did not give up on luxury appointment for the interior of the aircraft. Even the designated seating for guests and members of the media are comfortably appointed. The Presidential conference room is equipped with a wooden table and is surrounded by very comfortable chairs.
Regarding security on the arrival of Air Force 1 at its destination it is diverted to an assigned and protected area surrounded at all times by members of the Secret Service. The American security teams fear that details about the aircrafts protective devices especially those installed on the plane in recent years might be disclosed. What is known for example, is that the protective systems against shoulder fired missiles were replaced with newer systems capable of protecting the aircraft against advanced models of missiles.
It is known that some advanced emergency communications have been upgraded to respond to situations in the event a major terrorist attack would take place in the U.S. while the aircraft is parked on the ground. The power generation systems can provide sufficient power for all systems. According to some sources the airplanes passengers would also be protected in the event of a chemical or biological substance attack. A system of special air systems and filters has been installed to counter such an event.
The price of the Air Force No. 1 from what I was told is that experts have estimated its replacement cost today at close to $600 million dollars. By comparison a standard 747 now costs about $180 million.
Since the capabilities of this special aircraft remain unknown to a person observing it from the outside, true aviation experts have been able to notice little changes. Since strong measures are taken to protect the plane from the outside and inside it is enough to know that it is designed to permit the President of the U.S. to continue his functions in any situation or under any circumstances.