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The world's most economical missile programme?

Sourjya Bhowmick 

The recent launch of the Agni 5, the intercontinental ballistic missile, makes it a good time to look at how the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is managing its finances and funding for ambitious projects.

IndiaSpend carried out a 10-year study of available figures and found seemingly achieved a lot, with little. While we can’t establish direct time and cost correlations between the Rs 70,009-crore spend (including establishment costs) over a decade on and all the expenses on actually developing or testing missiles, it should come close.

The fact is for approximately $14 billion in 10 years, India has seemingly developed various kinds of missiles, drones, radar systems and carried out all kinds of research and upgradation on armaments and fighting gear.

USA missile spends
In contrast, USA’s unmanned aerial vehicle projects, the and the UAV Reaper, alone have a total project cost of $2.38 billion and $11.8 billion, respectively. On the other hand, the Trident II, has a total programme cost of $39 billion, the Tactical Tomahawk Cruise Missile has a cost of $6.8 billion and the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) has a total project cost of $5.7 billion, according to

Once again, both the UAV and the missiles may be chalk and cheese comparisons when it comes to capability and a host of other defence-related parameters. So, the idea is to provide contrasts, not compare in absolutes.

Capital Expenditurefinancials
On the other hand, the total value (Defence Ministry’s Annual Report 2011-2012) of the systems/technologies/ products that the DRDO has included in the defence services or is in the process of inclusion is computed at Rs 1,30,000 crore, or $26 billion, till now.

The DRDO’s mandate is to design, develop and produce state of the art weapon systems and allied equipment for the defence services, as well as provide technology solutions. This year, its budget is Rs 10,636 crore, including salaries for its staff and other miscellaneous expenses, as well as the capital outlay. Heads like pays and allowances of personnel, stores, and training account for Rs 5,996 crore in 2012-13.

The capital outlay, meant for modernisation and development, is effectively Rs 4,640 crore, an increase of Rs 12 crore over last year, when it was Rs 4,628 crore. Interestingly, the actual expenditure in 2010-11 was Rs 4,965. Thus, in 2011-2012 there was a decrease of Rs 337 crore.

DRDO & others

The pension budget for the three services (Army, Navy, Air Force) in 2012-13 is Rs 38,973 crore. The salary budget for these services is Rs 55,838 crore. The capital outlay for these three services in this year’s Budget is Rs 57,893 crore, just for components like land, construction, aircraft and aero engines, heavy & medium vehicles and other constructions.

DRDO’s revenue expenditure, on the other hand, is paltry, which is normal keeping in mind its manpower. DRDO’s pays and allowances is only Rs 2,237 crore, while training gets Rs 15 crore. ‘Research and development’ gets Rs 1,150 crore. However, the capital outlay is Rs 4,640 crore, which seems a lot less than compared to its requirement.

A few achievements this year are outlined below:

Missile systems

  • Surface-to-surface Prithvi II missile was successfully flight tested, that too, with accuracy on June 9, 2011. We already have three versions of Prithvi, with ranges of 150 km, 250 km and 350 km.
  • Agni I successfully flight tested on December 1, 2011, and Agni II on September 30, 2011. Agni IV was test-fired on November 15, 2011, and Agni V was successfully launched last week.
  • Long-range, surface-to-air missile, a joint initiative between the Navy and Israel, is complete and under delivery.
  • Medium-range surface-to-air missile, an initiative between the Air Force and IAI, Israel, was developed.
  • Brahmos Supersonic Cruise Missile is developed for the Army, Navy and Air Force and already installed in four ships. It is also being installed in five more naval ships. The installation of Brahmos in Sukhoi 30 MKI fighter planes is in progress.
  • The indigenously developed Astra Missile is completed, and flight trials on Sukhoi 30 MKI’s are completed.
  • Surface-to-surface missile Prahaar successfully flight tested on July, 21 2011, and has achieved terminal accuracy.
  • Helina, an anti-tank missile for advanced light helicopters, undertook a flight trial on October 17, 2011.
  • Shaurya Missile, with a range of 700 km, was launched on September 24, 2011, and has achieved accuracy.

All these missiles have been successfully flight-tested during the year. Prithvi and Shaurya are examples of a few missiles that have been upgraded from previous versions.

The Integrated Guided Missile Development Progr-amme, another important agenda of the DRDO and the brain child of former President A P J Abdul Kalam, was aimed at self sufficiency and had secured approval in 1983.

Agni, Prithvi, Trishul, Nag and Akash are the missiles completed under this programme. Finally, in January 2008, the programme was closed, as the goal of achieving self reliance in missile technology was achieved. Most of the achievements this year are upgradation in technology and strength.


  • The medium-altitude, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Rustom I was indigenously developed and has seen successful flight tests.
  • The Airborne Early Warning and Control System was indigenously produced and took its first flight on December 6, 2011. It includes active electronic and radar scanning antenna and is considered a major milestone. India is now one of the select countries that have this system.


  • Rohini, the three-dimensional surveillance radar system, was developed for the Air Force. It is built in accordance with the latest digital technology and would increase airspace awareness manifold.
  • Revathi, another surveillance radar system, is developed for Navy with highly optimised structure and accuracy.
    These are a few important achievements of the DRDO in 2011. However, the list does not end here. The specialty of DRDO lies on other aspects of the defence services as well.
  • Data Analysis and Pattern Recognition has been developed and handed to the Navy. This is aimed at creating a database that would analyse data mining and statistical testing.
  • Varuna, an interceptor, has been installed and given to the Navy. It can detect and intercept the activity of 500 radar emitters simultaneously.
  • Stride, a convoy jammer system is developed and used by the Army and paramilitary forces. It can prevent detonation of radio controlled improvised explosive devices or IEDs.
  • 110 Arjun Tanks have been handed to the Army till now, compared with the 124 demanded previously. A total of 90 per cent of the Arjun Tanks were indigenously developed at the Indian Ordinance Factory in Avadi, Chennai, by the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment, a wing of the DRDO. It is estimated to cost approximately Rs 2,500 crore. The remaining 14 tanks would be handed over by mid- 2012.
  • Power output of T 72 tanks has been upgraded from 780 hp to 1,000 hp to enhance mobility.
  • INSAS rifle and LMGs have been redesigned to increase lethality. The Army has already carried out user trials.

The DRDO has been achieving its targets every year. This is evident if you take a look at the ministry’s Annual Report 2011-2012, which speaks of achievements in 2010. For instance, in 2010, the DRDO had successfully tested three missiles, the Dhanush, the Akash and the Nag.

However there are allegations of time and cost overruns against the DRDO. For instance, a report says the IGMDP was sanctioned Rs 389 crore for developing five missiles. But till 2007, only two were ready and required an additional Rs 1,770 crore. With the stress on ‘buy and make Indian’, the push is on private Indian manufacturers and defence public sector undertakings. The technology for such measures is provided by the DRDO, but with a small budget.

Reprinted with permission from

First Published: Wed, May 02 2012. 00:43 IST