Python-5 is a fifth-generation air-to-air missile (AAM) manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. It is the newest member in the range of Python AAMs. The missile can engage enemy aircraft from very short ranges and near beyond visual range. Python-5 is the most accurate and reliable AAM of the Israeli Air Force and one of the most sophisticated guided missiles in the world.
The development on the Python-5 began in the 1990s. The missile was unveiled for the first time during the Paris Air Show in June 2003. The missile demonstrated superior target detection and tracking capabilities during the developmental and operational test programme, involving captive carry evaluation and homing trials.
The first operational kill by Python-5 was in August 2006 during the Lebanon War. The missile was fired from an F-16 Fighting Falcon and destroyed an Iranian-made Ababil-T UAV launched by the Hezbollah. In October 2012, a Python missile launched from an F-16I fighter of the Israeli Air Force successfully intercepted an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle intruding into Israeli air space. The Israeli Air Force plans to arm the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters with Python-5 missiles.
Features of the Israeli air-to-air missile
Python-5 incorporates the aerodynamic airframe of the Python-4 missile. It also retains the inertial navigation system (INS), rocket motor, warhead and proximity fuse of its predecessor. The advanced technologies combined with operationally proven components deliver superior performance.
Python-5 is a dual use missile suitable for air-to-air and surface-to-air missions. It integrates a fifth-generation imaging seeker, modern software, advanced infrared counter-countermeasure (IRCCM) and flight control systems.
Python-5 has a length of 3.1m, wingspan of 64cm and diameter of 16cm. The weight of the missile is 105kg. It can carry an 11kg high explosive fragmentation warhead equipped with an active laser proximity fuse.
Guidance and navigation systems
Python-5 features a new electro-optical infrared seeker with high off-boresight capability. The infrared seeker scans the target area for the threat and locks-on for terminal chase after the target is identified.
It employs a dual waveband focal plane array (FPA). The FPA ensures the attainment of small, low signature aim-points during day or night in clear and cloudy conditions. The highly advanced image and signal algorithms guide the missile towards the target.
Python-5 is also equipped with lock-on-before launch (LOBL) and lock-on-after launch (LOAL) capabilities. In LOAL mode, the target information is transmitted from the launch aircraft to the missile.
The missile offers a high hit probability and excellent resistance to countermeasures. It can even engage targets capable of performing evasive manoeuvres. The full sphere launch capability allows 360° engagement around the launch aircraft. The all-aspect / all-direction attack ability ensures the simultaneous destruction of multiple targets.
Python-5 air defence capabilities
Python-5 is also provided in air defence configurations. The missile along with the Derby BVR missile is employed in the Spyder-SR/MR short and medium range mobile air defence systems. The missiles are installed with a booster assembly in the Spyder-MR configuration.
The Spyder-SR/MR system is capable of engaging a wide range of targets including attack helicopters, fighter aircraft, bombers, cruise missiles, UAVs and precision guided munitions. The system has 3600 engagement capability and can engage multiple aerial targets simultaneously.
Python-5 missiles were delivered along with Spyder systems to the Indian Air Force (IAF), Georgian Air Force, Republic of Singapore Air Force and Peruvian Army. India’s indigenous light combat aircraft Tejas was added the capability of carrying Python-5 AAM as part of its weapon package after a series of successful tests concluded in Goa.
In April 2021, the Python-5 missile was test-fired from a Tejas aircraft of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the design and development agency of the Tejas.
Propulsion and aircraft compatibility
Python-5 is powered by a solid propellant rocket engine. The propulsion system provides a speed of Mach 4 and an operational range of more than 20km.
Python-5 can be integrated with wide range of aircraft, including F-5E/F Tiger-II, F-15 Eagle, F-16I Fighting Falcon, Dassault Mirage F-1C, Mirage 5, Mirage 2000, IAI Kfir, Sea Harrier, HAL Tejas and F-35 Lightning II.