DRDO reverse-engineers process to manufacture world's most powerful explosive - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 30 November 2010

DRDO reverse-engineers process to manufacture world's most powerful explosive

A press release from the DRDO, issued today, is attached below:


New Delhi: Agrahayana 09, 1932
November 30, 2010

Move over RDX! That’s passé for the needs of the Indian Armed Forces. The DRDO is developing a powerful explosive, --- the CL-20, that can substantially reduce the weight and size of the warhead while packing much more punch. In fact, the RDX is not the standard explosive in use with the Indian Armed Forces; the warheads are mostly packed with HMX, FOX-7 or amorphous Boron.

Scientists at the Pune-based High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) have already synthesized adequate quantity of CL-20 in the laboratory. “It is the most powerful non-nuclear explosive yet known to man,” says Dr. AK Sikder, Joint Director, HEMRL, who heads the High Energy Materials Division. The compound, ‘Indian CL-20’ or ICL-20, was indigenously synthesized in the HEMRL laboratory using inverse technology, he added. “The HEMRL has taken India to an elite club of countries with advanced capabilities in the field of Energetic Materials,” said Shri Manish Bhardwaj, a senior Scientist with the HEMRL. In fact, the CL-20 is such a fascination for the HEMRL that a larger-than-life size model of the compound occupies the pride of place as one enters the portals of the main building of the DRDO's premier lab in Pune.

CL-20, so named after the China Lake facility of the Naval Air Weapons Station in California, US, was first synthesized by Dr. Arnold Nielson in 1987. CL-20, or Octa-Nitro-Cubane, is a Nitramine class of explosive 15 times as powerful as HMX, His/Her Majesty Explosive or High Melting Explosive or Octogen. The HMX itself is more than four times as potent as the Research Developed Explosive or Royal Demolition Explosive or Cyclonite or Hexogen, commonly known as RDX.

“CL-20 offers the only option within the next 10-15 years to meet the requirements of the Indian Armed Forces for Futuristic Weapons,” said Dr. Sikder. “CL-20 based Shaped Charges significantly improve the penetration over armours,” he said, adding that it could be used in the bomb for the 120-mm main gun mounted on the MBT-Arjun. “But the costs of mass production of ICL-20 are still prohibitive,” said Dr. Sikder. Compared to Rs.750 per kilogram it takes to produce RDX in the factory today, the HMX is worth about Rs.6,000 per kg while a kilogram of CL-20 costs a whopping Rs.70,000 per kg.

“We have a tie up with industry partner for intermediate commercial exploitation of ICL-20,” said Dr. A. Subhananda Rao, Director, HEMRL. About 100 kgs of ICL-20 has been produced by HEMRL in collaboration with the Premier Explosives Limited (PEL). The CL-20, which looks like limestone or grainy talcum powder, is being manufactured by the PEL factory at Peddakanlukur village in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh. The Rs.60 crores Hyderabad-based company bagged the DRDO’s Defence Technology Absorption Award, 2007 worth Rs.Ten Lakhs, presented by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on May 12, 2008, their most prestigious award, claimed company sources.

“The advantage with the CL-20 is its Reduced Sensitivity,” said Dr. Sikder, enabling easy handling and transportation of the lethal weaponry. In fact, the HEMRL is concentrating on the Reduced Shock Sensitivity (RSS) explosives, such as RSS-RDX, which costs about Rs.1,500-2,000 per kg, and RSS-HMX. “There is a whole array of low sensitivity material or Insensitive Munitions we are working on,” said Dr. Rao. “The world around there is a lot of R&D being pumped into what are called the Green Explosives, as also the advanced Insensitive Munitions (IM) and RSS explosives,” added Dr. Sikder, which reduces the chances of mishap and loss to M4, - Men, Money, Materials and Machines.


  1. This has to be a breakthrough.

    Albeit a costlier explosive but it can still be used on high precision weapons.

  2. hope they can make it in various shapes and sizes to enable covert ops too....

    Indian version of 007 Agents ???

  3. Have seen enough of DRDO claims. I will believe the story when the munition becomes available for use by the forces. And I would like Ajai Shukla, who has taken to tom toming DRDO, to please note the dates of this announcement and the date when the munition becomes available for operational use. Untli then, for me, this adds to the long list of unverifed claims by DRDO for reasons that are not far to imagine.

  4. Pardon my ignorance about explosives Ajai as I have zero combat experience.. but I want to ask this question:

    They say that yieldwise:

    CL20 = 15x HMX (= 4x RDX)

    The argument against CL20 is its "prohibitive" cost..

    Now if we consider the cost of an equivalent amount of the explosives for similar yield then we get:

    70,000 ~ 15 x 6000 ~ 15 x 4 x 750 i.e.
    70,000 ~ 90,000 ~ 45,000

    Weightwise it is:

    1 kg ~ 15 kg ~ 60 kg

    So what is actually "prohibitive" for a similar yield??! I don't see why we shouldn't use it as a substitute for other explosives esp in bombs, artillery shells, AT weapons..

    Could you clear my doubts please?

  5. ajai sir

    any news on the research that was carried out on the huge cache of gun powder/explosive charge meant for the Jaigarh cannon, that was recovered. Its said when it was destroyed officials said was still very effective even after 400 years.

    So if technology used to make gun powder at that time can be effective now, surely we can use it develop low cost high powered explosive.

    Your views

    Joydeep Ghosh

  6. I'm damn sure these WILL be used for India's UCAV programme where ICL-20 will be used for warheads carried by drones.

  7. The reverse engineering and inverse techniqu are twu different things in my openion. In reverse engineering the product is already available but where as the inverse technique is something different and a different process. It seems that this CL 20 came out of a project which is supposed to be a failure and then after realising the product importance the procedures are improved.

  8. Mr. Shukla,
    The heading of your article is not correct; basically the heading is absolutely stupid. A chemical compound cannot be "reverse-engineered." Theoretically, One can always see the structure of a chemical compound and study its properties.

    But in practice 'reverse-engineering' a chemical compound is not like 'reverse-engineering' an engine or a machine. Basically, there is no such term "reverse-engineering" in experimental chemistry.

    To synthesis a chemical compound one needs to understand the chemical steps involved. So any person having some chemistry knowledge can write down the reagents needed in the synthesis and the chemical steps involved in the synthesis of a compound.

    For any nitro compounds, such as CL-20 or RDX, the most important step is to separate the end product from the reagents or avoid the explosions of intermediate compounds in between the reaction steps. This is where knowledge on chemistry helps. Many nitro compounds are sensitive to shock, air, pressure, concentration, temp, etc.

    So please make sure whether headlines make sense with respect to topics.


  9. Please correct your title, its not reverse engineered but an explosive developed through inverse technology. Both are two totally different processes. In future, please do mind posting things like this correctly.

  10. Much indignation being posted about the "reverse-engineering" versus "inverse technology".

    Can someone post in simple, clear and short... what exactly is the difference.

    Much obliged in advance!

  11. @ Ajay Shukla : u r very late for puting blogs news .... Why dont u update yourself and get recent news...

  12. I sincerely hope this news is true, but every source on the web says CL-20 is 15% - 20% more powerful than HMX - not 15x times more powerful.

    Maybe the guys who typed out the despatch gut it wrong. Colonel Shukla, please can you check through your sources?


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