The PL-8 is a Chinese air-to-air missile (AAM) originated from the Israeli Python-3 AAM, (PL short for Pili, meaning thunderbolt). Experience gained from PL-8/Python-3 had helped China greatly in developing its next missile, the PL-9.

China's PLAAF was quite impressed with this missile, and paid for licensed production as the PL-8 AAM in the 1980s. The program was code named "Number 8 Project" and formally started on September 15, 1983. The major supplier of the missile was Xi'an Eastern Machinery Factory located in Xi'an. From March 1988 to April 1989, technology transfer to China was complete while license assembly and license built parts continued, and by the spring of 1989, the complete domestic Chinese built missile received state certification.

China has also developed a helmet-mounted sight (HMS) system for the PL-8. Elbit Systems DASH (Display And Sight Helmet) helmet mounted sight (HMS). However, it’s not clear that if this was part of the Python-3 deal or a separate deal instead.

The seeker of the original Python-3 AAM was able to be slaved to either the airborne fire control radars or DASH HMS. These capabilities initially did not exist on PL-8 at the earlier stage of its service in Chinese hands, because the missile is only compatible with western radars, but not compatible with Chinese radars. The only exception was that capability of being slaved to airborne fire control radars could be achieved by PL-8 only when it is used in conjunction with the few western radars in Chinese inventory, such as the British GEC-Marconi Skyranger airborne radar and Italian FIAR Grifo series airborne radar on Chengdu J-7, but for most part, the seeker of PL-8 could only be fixed, pointing to the front when deployed on aircraft with domestic Chinese radars. These capabilities would not be fully achieved until the advent of PL-9, the next Chinese AAM, when the missile became compatible not only with western radars, but also Chinese and Russian radars as well, and these capabilities of PL-9 were eventually incorporated to PL-8 AAMs in its upgrades so that PL-8 is fully capable as Python-3.

Class Missile
Type Air to Air
Manufacturer CATIC
Origin China
Country Name Origin Year
China 1988
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
China 1988 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
CATIC 1988 View

Type air-to-air missile and Surface-to-air missile
Place of origin  China
Service history
In service 1988 to present
Used by China
Production history
Manufacturer Xi'an Eastern Machinery Factory andCATIC
Produced 1988 to 1990’s
Weight 115 kg
Length 2.95 meter
Diameter 160 mm
Warhead 11 kg high explosive
Impact / Proximity
Engine solid rocket
Wingspan 800 mm
Propellant solid fuel
Operational range 20 km
Flight ceiling 21 km
Flight altitude 0.5 km minimum
Speed ˜ Mach 3.5
Guidance system passive infrared homing
Launch platform aerial and ground

End notes