Date: 10 Jan 2008



By Suman Sharma
In New Delhi

The DRDO has decided to wind up its ambitious and indigenous guided missile project, launched in 1983 to add muscle to the nation’s arsenal

Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on Tuesday announced that it would scrap its 25- year Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) by the end of this year.

Plagued by cost overruns and repeated failures, the announcement is a virtual admission of failure. In fact, some former chiefs of the different services said as much on hearing the news.

Speaking of the Trishul surface- to-air missile that has now been conveniently termed a technology demonstrator, former naval chief Sushil Kumar said: “It was a national embarrassment. DRDO made fake claims for 25 years. In the 1999 Kargil conflict, the navy was vulnerable to attacks from Pakistan’s Harpoon. 

Finally the project was scrapped when the navy went in for the Israeli Barak missiles. The Prithvi’s naval variant, Dhanush, is also flawed and ill-conceived, which is being inflicted on the navy.”

On the Akash missile, which was the subject of the DRDO media conference here on Tuesday, former air chief S.P. Tyagi said: “Akash was to be ready at a certain time, but it wasn’t. I had to change everything to makeup for the delay.”

Both missiles were part of a programme to develop indigenous weapons. It began on July 22, 1983, with plans for Agni, Prithvi, Trishul, Akash and Nag missiles.

Initiated by DRDO scientists Anand Parthasarthy and A.P. J. Abdul Kalam, each programme under the IGMDP was supposed to have been completed by December 1995, within a budget of Rs 388.83 crore. Before the deadline expired a 10-year extension was requested Narasimha Rao by then DRDO chief Kalam.

The revised funding was Rs 1771.43 crore, implying a budgetary overrun of Rs 1,382.6 crore. This 10-year extension was further extended to December 2007 under current chief M. Natarajan.

The IGMDP, which was aimed at achieving self-sufficiency in missile development and production, comprises five core missile programmes — the strategic Agni ballistic missile, the tactical Prithvi ballistic missile, the Akash and Trishul surface- to-air missiles and the Nag anti-tank guided missile.

Prahlada, chief of Control Research and Development, DRDO, said development and production of most of the futuristic weapon systems would henceforth be undertaken with foreign collaboration.

The real reason why this step has been mooted was best illustrated by what transpired in the quest to develop each of these missiles.

AGNI-I AND II: The nuclearcapable Agni series is in use in the army and the IAF. Agni-I, a short-range ballistic missile with a 700-km range, has eight missiles in use in both services and Agni-II, a medium-range ballistic missile of 2,500-km range, has 24 of its units in use.

Though both versions had been successfully tested five times, army sources said “a handful of tests are not enough to prove a missile’s worth”.

AGNI-III: An intermediaterange ballistic missile of 3,500- km to 4,000-km range. It had its last successful test in April 2007.

AGNI-IV: It’s an intercontinental ballistic missile with a 6,000-km range and is under trial consideration in mid-2008.

An intermediate range ballistic missile is already in use in the army and IAF.

PRITHVI-I/II/III: It’s a surface-to-surface battlefield missile for all the three services.

Eleven Prithvi missiles are in use in the army and the IAF. The IAF range is 250 km and the army’s is 150 km. Reports say the army apparently does not rely on Prithvi as an effective deterrent and cannot do so unless technological issues
affecting launch preparedness are resolved.

TRISHUL: A quick-reaction short-range surface-to-air missile for the three services, but the current status is that it’s just a technology demonstrator,
as indicated by former defence minister Pranab Mukherjee. Incidentally, Trishul is in the process of being bailed out with foreign technology after its development hit a dead end last year.

Prahalada said the IAF was kind enough to accept some Trishul missiles. The programme will be wrapped up after giving the IAF a small quantity of Trishuls as “stopgap” till the next generation Israeli Spyder missile systems arrive.

NAG: It’s an anti-tank missile with a range of 4 to 7 km. Essentially for the army, Nag is undergoing trials and a helicopter version for the IAF is being considered. Prahlada said Nag would be wrapped up by December 2008. It would have its user trials in mid-2008.

AKASH: The medium-range surface-to-air missile had its first user trial in December 2007, and the air chief said the IAF will have one squadron of the
missile to begin with. The 27- km-range missile was developed for the army and the IAF. With its depleting fleet of obsolete Russian SA-3 Pechora and OSAAK
missile systems, inducted in the 1980s, the IAF pushed for an modification a year ago.

After the government refused to entertain Polish and Russian upgrade offers, the IAF is in desperate need of missile squadrons to plug holes in its air defence in the western sector. The Pechoras, 60 of which were bought between 1974 and 1990, only 24 are operational. 

Citing the delay in the Akash project and its sister programme, Trishul, as primary factors, the IAF placed a Rs 2,000-crore order for 18 Israeli Spyder surface-to-air missiles last year. 

Project director R.R. Panyam the users, the defence ministry and the DRDO and a non-existent private sector base were the reasons behind the delays. More participation by the private sector and foreign joint ventures would be encouraged to avoid delays, he added.