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 roduced 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.