The Python 3 is an Israeli heatseeking missile, being a further development of the Shafrir 2. Produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, it was much improved and has seen widespread service. Notably in the 1982 Lebanon war, it performed very well, gaining between 35-50 kills to its name. The PLAAF was also enthused with it, liscensing it as the PL-8.
The Python 3 was introduced in Update "La Royale", and comfortably sits as one of, if not the best short range IR missile. Compared to the AIM-9L and R-60M, it is faster and at 40Gs, pulls much harder than both. It has better range than the R-60M, and in most cases the AIM-9L, although in theory at high altitude the AIM-9L will outrange it. It works well being shot at strange angles that enemies will not expect, to avoid being flared away.
Vehicles equipped with this weapon
Tell us about the tactical and technical characteristics of the missile.
The Python 3 with 5 kg of HBX filler has around 8 kg TNTe. It will produce both explosion and shrapnel damage to enemy aircraft, penetrating airframes or blowing off parts off the aircraft.
Comparison with analogues
- AIM-9L - US/NATO standard IR AAM with very long guidance time; while having lesser overload, head-on range and explosive content.
- AIM-9M - Missile based on the AIM-9L equipped with an advanced heat seeker which has IRCCM capabilities and a low/reduced smoke motor.
- R-73 - Soviet IR AAM with identical overload; while having lesser explosive content and a shorter combat radius.
- Magic-2 - French standard IR AAM with higher explosive content, slightly more guidance time and a faster flight speed; while having slightly less overload but identical head-on range.
Usage in battles
As one of the most advanced IR AAM of its era, the Python 3 excels in terms of velocity, overload factor, and damage. The overall combat radius is also long enough for strikes even at 3 km and above, there are cases where the Python 3 could hit enemy targets at a higher altitude and long distance (thanks to lesser air density and its powerful rocket engine). The speed and damage of the missile at Mach 3.5 also helps it deliver fatal blow to careless enemies or sitting ducks which depleted their energy for an evasive manoeuvre. Although carriers of the Python 3 currently lack HMD unlike its Chinese cousin, up to 6 x Python 3 on F-16A Netz can still be an ultimate nightmare for enemy jets. Be sure not to fire them within 1.2 km radius when in a head-on as these missiles doesn't have thrust vectoring for very tight manoeuvres, wasting a chance to take down enemies.
Pros and cons
- High overload factor of 40G
- High velocity on par with Soviet SARH-based missiles at Mach 3.5
- Long combat radius
- Loaded high explosive payload
- Vulnerable to flares
- Heavier than its NATO/Warsaw Pact counterparts
As the production of Israeli domestic AAM has gone smoothly after the production of Shafrir-1/2 in the 1970s, they have been proved very effective against enemy jets, especially when IAF shot down 89 jets with the Shafrir-2. However, the ongoing conflicts with surrounding Arabic countries and introduction of more advanced jets for these countries also called for a new IR AAM that can achieve head-on attacks - USAF by the time already has AIM-9L in 1977 while Soviet was still working on the R-60M variant (introduced in 1982). The development of the Python 3 started in 1978 where Rafael ditched Hebrew names for the missile family and opted for an English name instead. As soon as Israel started to be involved in the Lebanese War in 1982, the IAF launched the Operation Mole Cricket 19 where it achieved no losses against around 82 (up to 86 vary by sources) Lebanese/Syrian jets and destroying their SAM systems for further air superiority. During the "Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot", the IAF also introduced their head-on IR AAMs including US-built AIM-9Ls and their latest Python 3 in operation, where the latter scored around 50 victories among the 82 victories. Although being a missile from 1982, the Python 3 is now still used by IAF alongside with its more advanced cousins, Python 4 and 5.
Soon after the "Turkey Shoot", Chinese military officials and engineers also deemed Python 3 as a good bargain to upgrade the PLAAF fleet with more advanced Western missiles before domestic alternatives were commissioned. The deal which included the production line and 1,500 missiles was set in 1983 under the name Project No.8 (八号工程), later renamed PL-8 as the project was finalized and the new missile entered service in 1986. The technologies used on Python 3 also set the foundation of future Chinese domestic missiles i.e. export-only PL-9 whose seeker was developed from the PL-8.
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