‘New’ Israeli missile for IAF: How Python-5 missile gives Tejas more teeth

By The week

The DRDO announced on Wednesday that the indigenous Tejas fighter has been cleared to carry the Python-5 short-range air-to-air missile.

The Python-5 is the second air-to-air missile of Israeli origin to be integrated on the Tejas fighter. The first was the Derby medium-range air-to-air missile. Both weapons are made by the Israeli defence company Rafael. While the Derby is a radar-guided weapon thought to have a range of over 50km, the Python-5 is an infra-red guided missile that ‘homes in’ on the heat signature of a target. The Python-5 is believed to have a range of at least 20km.

“Tejas added the 5th generation Python-5 air-to-air missile in its air-to-air weapons capability on Tuesday. Trials were also aimed to validate enhanced capability of already integrated Derby beyond-visual-range AAM on Tejas,” said an official. He said the test-firing at Goa completed a series of missile trials to validate performance of the aircraft under extremely challenging scenarios.

“Derby missile achieved direct hit on a high-speed manoeuvring aerial target, and the Python missiles also achieved 100 per cent hits, thereby validating their complete capability. The trials met all their planned objectives,” the official said.

Wednesday’s announcement by the DRDO is believed to be the first acknowledgement of the integration of the Python-5 missile on an Indian Air Force fighter. Talk of the Python-5 being offered to the Indian Air Force had been going for several years.

Interestingly, both the Derby and Python-5 missile already serve the Indian Air Force in a different role—as surface-launched air defence missiles on the SPYDER system.

Illustrious family of missiles

The Python-5 is the newest member of the Israeli Python family of short-range air-to-air missiles. While the number designation suggests there were five different generations of missiles bearing the name ‘Python’, in reality, there are only three: Python-3, Python-4 and Python-5.

The first two generations of Israeli short-range missiles were called ‘Shafrir’. The missiles were distinguished by advances in propulsion and sophistication of their homing seekers.

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