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Science & Technology: Defence Technology - UPSC

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(i) The responsibility of developing India’s defense technology is assigned to the DRDO, i.e., the Defence Research and Development Organization.
(ii) Set up in 1958 and hence, it is the supreme body of researching, monitoring, regulating, and administering the India Defence Research and Development Program.
(iii) At present, DRDO is a network of more than 50 laboratories located in different cities of the country.


Make India prosperous by establishing world-class science and technology base and provide Defence Services decisive edge by equipping them with internationally competitive systems and solutions.


1. Design, develop and lead to production state-of-the-art sensors, weapon systems, platforms and allied equipment for the Defence Services.
2. Provide technological solutions to the Defence Services to optimise combat effectiveness and to promote well-being of the troops.
3. Develop infrastructure and committed quality manpower and build strong technology base.

DRDO has constituted four research boards to nurture and harness talent in academic institutions, universities, R&D centres and industry. They are the Naval Research Board (NRB), the Armament Research Board (ARMREB), the Aeronautics Research & Development Board, the Life Sciences Research Board.

Missile Technology

(i) The development of missile technology in India started in the 1960s.
(ii) The first successful testing of space-cum-missile technology was the Rohini-75, which was tested in 1967.
(iii) The research and development program of developing indigenous missiles was called the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program.

Types of Military Missiles

Based on target and launching position, the military missiles are classified as -
1. Air-to-Air Missile - carried by an aircraft and targets the enemy’s aircraft.
2. Surface-to-Air - fired at enemy’s aircraft from the ground.
3. Air-to-Surface - fired at the enemy country’s ships, tankers, vehicles, bunkers, or military men from the aircraft.
4. Surface-to-Surface - fired at enemy grounds from our grounds.
5. Underwater - target enemy locations in the water.

Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP)

(i) The project commenced in early 80s under the leadership of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
(ii) It is managed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
(iii) Four projects, to be pursued concurrently, were born under the IGMDP:

  • Short range surface-to-surface missile (code-named Prithvi).
  • Short range low-level surface-to-air missile (code-named Trishul).
  • Medium range surface-to-air missile (code-named Akash) and Third-generation anti-tank missile (code-named Nag).

(i) Agni-I is a short or intermediate-range ballistic missile. The missile consists of a single engine.
(ii) Agni-II is a medium-range ballistic missile equipped with two solid fuel stages. The missile has a range of more than 2,000km.
(iii) Agni-III With a circular error probable under a 40m range, the missile is considered one of the most accurate strategic ballistic missiles of its range class in the world.
(iv) Agni-IV has a length of 20m and weight of 17t. It can carry a payload of 800kg. The maximum range of the missile is 4,000km.


(i) India’s first indigenously developed ballistic missile.
(ii) Prithvi-I (150 km/1,000 kg) in army service. Prithvi-I can be armed with five different types of conventional warheads.
(iii) Prithvi-II (250 km/500 kg), in Air Force service.
(iv) Development of a longer-range, reduced-payload Prithvi-III (350 km range) is suggested by some sources. The Prithvi-lll is apparently the naval version of the missile


(i) It is a medium range Surface to Air Missile with multitarget engagement capability.
(ii) It uses high-energy solid propellant for the booster and ram-rocket propulsion for the sustainer phase.

The phased array radar provides capability for multiple target tracking and simultaneous deployment of missiles to attack four targets at the same time


(i) Trishul has a range of 9 km and is designed to counter a low level attack with a very quick reaction time.
(ii) It is all-weather surface-to-air-missile which call, when employed with the fire Control Flycatcher radar, blow a hole in the enemy’s plan.
(iii) With a radar-altimeter in its warhead, Trishul can be used as an anti-sea skimmer missile.


(i) Nag is a third-generation, fire-and-forget, anti-tank guided missile developed by DRDO.
(ii) The missile incorporates an advanced passive homing guidance system and possesses high single-shot kill probability.
(iii) Nag can be launched from land and air-based platforms. The land version is currently available for integration on the Nag missile carrier (NAMICA). The helicopter-launched configuration, designated as helicopter-launched NAG (HELINA).


(i) Astra is India’s first beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missile indigenously designed and developed by DRDO.
(ii) It is intended to engage and destroy aerial targets with high manoeuvrability and supersonic speeds.
(iii) The electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) feature improves the missile’s target tracking capability by reducing the effect of electronic countermeasures of the enemy targets in jamming environments.


(i) The Surya Missile or Agni 6 is four-stage intercontinental ballistic missile under development by the DRDO.
(ii) Agni-VI missile is likely to carry up to 10 -Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Warheads (MIRVs) warheads and will have a strike range of 8,000 km to 12,000 k

Fire and Forget Missiles

Fire-and-forget is a type of missile guidance which does not require further guidance after launch such as illumination of the target or wire guidance, and can hit its target without the launcher being in line-of-sight of the target.

Development of AntiMissile System

(i) India has been trying to develop an indigenous ballistic missile defence (BMD) system since the late 90s.
(ii) India has added Israel’s SPYDER system to its air defence system and has bought S-400 system from Russia which will be delivered in 2020.
(iii) An endo-atmospheric missile remains within the earth’s atmospheric missile remains within the earth’s atmosphere, below 100 km altitude, while an exo-atmospheric missile can fly out of the atmosphere too.
(iv) Prithvi and Ashwin are India’s endo-atmospheric and exo-atmospheric missiles respectively.


(i) BrahMos began in the 1990s as a joint project between Russia and India. The missile’s name is a portmanteau of the rivers Brahmaputra and Moskva in India and Russia, respectively.
(ii) The BrahMos is an antishipping weapon—it also can hit ground-based targets, and is ideal for precision attacks against fixed installations such as radars, command centers, airbases and enemy missile batteries.
(iii) It can also potentially carry a 660-pound nuclear warheads.
(iv) BrahMos claims it has the capability of attacking surface targets by flying as low as 5 meters in altitude and the maximum altitude it can fly is 14000 meters.
(v) It can gain a speed of Mach 2.8, and has a maximum range of 290 km.
(vi) It has a two-stage propulsion system, with a solid-propellant rocket for initial acceleration and a liquid-fuelled ramjet responsible for sustained supersonic cruise.

Light Aircraft -Tejas

(i) India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) together with its variants, is the smallest and lightest Multi-Role Supersonic Fighter Aircraft of its class.
(ii) Tejas is a multi-role aircraft capable of comprehensive air superiority and air defense roles.
(iii) The smooth upper wing body blending of Tejas gives it enough Stealth to avoid early detection.


(i) India’s homegrown 14-seater aircraft Saras has been re-engined and modified.
(ii) The original design included a maximum takeoff weight of 6,100kg and a maximum payload of 1,232kg.
(iii) Saras will now boast of multi-role capabilities like feeder line aircraft, air ambulance, executive aircraft, troop transport, reconnaissance, aerial survey and light cargo transport.

Dhruv ALH

(i) Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has developed the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH), a light (5.5t class) multirole and multi mission helicopter for army, air force, navy, coast guard and civil operations, for both utility and attack roles by day and night.
(ii) The helicopter is of conventional design and about two-thirds by weight of composite construction.
(iii) The army and air force helicopters can carry up to eight anti-armour missiles. The naval variant can carry two torpedoes or four anti-ship missiles.


(i) Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA) (named as Lakshya) is a reusable aerial target system.
(ii) Lakshya is remotely operated from ground to provide aerial target for training of gun and Missile crew and Air Defence pilots for all the three Services.
(iii) Lakshya is a reclaimable aerial target system designed to train gun and missile crews and air defence pilots in engaging targets.
(iv) Designed to be reused for 15 missions, the aircraft can spiflicate airborne incoming enemy targets.


(i) Nishant is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) developed by DRDO.
(ii) It is primarily tasked with intelligence gathering over enemy territory and also for reconnaissance, training, surveillance, target designation, artillery fire correction, damage assessment, ELINT and SIGINT.
(iii) Nishant is one of the few UAVs in the world in its weight-class capable of being catapult-launched and recovered by using parachute, thus eliminating the need for a runway as in the case of conventional take-off and landing with wheels.

Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT)

It is a state-of-the-art tank with superior fire power, high mobility, and excellent protection.


(i) Accurate and fast target acquisition capability during day and night and in all types of weather .
(ii) Shortest possible reaction time during combat engagements.
(iii) Ability to accurately engage targets on move.
(iv) Capability to destroy all possible enemy armour at maximum battle ranges.
(v) Excellent first hit probability.


(i) Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher System, is a state of the art weapon for destroying/neutralising enemy troop concentration areas, communication centres air terminal complexes, gun/rocket locations and for laying mines by firing rockets with several warheads from launcher vehicle.
(ii) High operational mobility, flexibility and accuracy are the major characteristics, which give Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher System an edge in modern artillery warfare.
(iii) Pinaka can neutralise a target area of 350 square kilometres, and is meant as a supplement to the existing artillery system at a range beyond 30 km. It can be fitted with a variety of warheads ranging from blast-cum-pre-fragmented high explosives to anti-tank mines.

Missile System of India
 Missile Features
 Agni I (i) Single stage, solid fuel, Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM).
 (ii) Using solid propulsion booster and a liquid propulsion upper stage.
 (iii) Range of 700-800 km.
 Agni II (i) Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM).
 (ii) Range more than 2000 km
 Agni III (i) Two stage IRBM
 (ii) Support a wide range of warhead configurations.
 (iii) Strike range of more than 2,500 Km
 Agni IV (i) Two stage missile powered by solid propellant.
 (ii) Can fire from a road mobile launcher.
 (iii) Range is more than 3,500 km.
 (iv) Equipped with indigenously developed ring laser gyro and composite rocket motor.
 Agni V (i) Three-stage solid fueled, indigenous Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
 (ii) Capable of carrying 1.5 tonnes of nuclear warheads.
 (iii) Latest and most advanced variant in terms of navigation and guidance, warhead and engine.
 (iv) After induction in the military, India will join an exclusive club of countries like the US, Russia, China, France, and Britain which have intercontinental ballistic missile capability.
 (v) Canister launches missile system for operational flexibility.
 (vi) Range is more than 5,000 km.
 Trishul (i) Short-range, quick reaction, all weather surface-to-air missile Designed to counter a low level attack.
 (ii) Has necessary electronic counter-measures against all known aircraft jammers.
 Akash (i) Medium-range, surface-to-air missile with multi-target engagement capability.

 (ii) Multiple warheads capable.

 (iii) High-energy solid propellant and ram-rocket propulsion system.

 Nag (i) Third generation ‘fire-and-forget’ anti-tank missile with a range of 4-8km.
 (ii) Developed indigenously as an anti-armour weapon employing sensor fusion technologies for flight guidance.
 HELINA (i) (Helicopter Launched NAG) is the air-to-surface version of the NAG integrated into Dhruv Helicopters.
 Prithvi (i) First indigenously built ballistic missile under IGMDP.

 (ii) Surface-to-surface battle field missile.

 (iii) Demonstrates higher lethal effects and high level capability with field interchangeable warheads.

 (iv) Range from 150 km to 300 km.

 BrahMos (i) Supersonic cruise missile.
 (ii) Being developed with Russia as a private joint-venture.
 (iii) Multi-platform cruise can strike from various types of platforms.
 (iv) Among the world fastest supersonic cruise missiles with speeds ranging between Mach 2.5 – 2.8.
 (v) A 'fire and forget' weapon i.e. requiring no further guidance from the control centre once the target has been assigned.
 Nirbhay (i) Subsonic missile, supplement to the BrahMos.
 (ii) Capable of being launched from multiple platforms on land, sea and air.
 (iii) A terrain hugging, stealth missile capable of delivering 24 Different types of warheads depending on mission requirements.
 (iv) Can reach up to 1,000 km.
 Sagarika (i) Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)
 (ii) Being integrated with India’s nuclear powered Arihant-class submarine.
 (iii) Range - 700 km.
 Shaurya (i) A variant of the K-15 Sagarika.
 (ii) Submarine- nuclear-capable missile.
 (iii) Aims to enhance India’s second-strike capability.
 Dhanush (i) Sea-based, short-range, liquid propellant ballistic missile.
 (ii) Naval version of Prithvi II.
 (iii) Maximum range 350 km.
 Astra (i) Beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile using a solid-propellant.
 (ii) In terms of size and weight, one of the smallest weapon developed by the DRDO.
 (iii) Active radar seeker to find targets.
 (iv) Electronic counter-measure capabilities.
 (v) Designed to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft at supersonic speeds in the head-on mode at a range of 80 km.
 Prahaar (i) India’s latest surface-to-surface missile with a range of 150 km.
 (ii) Primary objective is to bridge the gap between the unguided Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher and the guided Prithvi missile variants.
 (iii) Have high maneuverability, acceleration and accuracy.


(i) Government’s lethargic revenue commitments towards DRDO have put major projects involving futuristic technology on hold.
(ii) DRDO also suffers from inadequate manpower in critical areas to the lack of proper synergy with the armed forces.
(iii) Cost escalation and long delays have damaged the reputation of DRDO.
(iv) Even after 60 years of DRDO formation, India still imports a large share of its defence equipments. India is the world’s largest importer of defence equipment.
(v) DRDO's list of successes is short- primarily the Agni and Prithvi missiles. Its list of failures is much longer. The Kaveri Engine is running late by 16 years and the cost has escalated by around 800 percent.
(vi) There is no accountability. Nobody is taken to task for time and cost overruns.
(vii) CAG report also revealed that not all technologies developed by DRDO were suitable for use by the armed forces. The three services have rejected 70 per cent of the products developed did not meet their standard and requirement.
(viii) DRDO is just tinkering with World War II equipment instead of working on cutting-edge technology.
(ix) Even if the systems are acquired from abroad and DRDO is meant to service them, if it fails. This leaves critical gaps in national defence.

Way Forward

Suggested by the committee chaired by P. Rama Rao in February 2007.
(i) Setting up a commercial arm of the organisation to make it a profitable entity, besides cutting back on delays in completing projects.
(ii) Setting up of a Defence Technology Commission as well as a bigger role for DRDO in picking production partners for products developed by the agency.
(iii) DRDO should be able to select a capable partner company from the outset, from the private sector if necessary.
(iv) DRDO’s move to outsource is the right move and will open lot of opportunities benefiting the Indian companies.

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