Python (missile)

The Rafael Python is a family of air-to-air missiles (AAMs) built by the Israeli weapons manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, formerly RAFAEL Armament Development Authority. Originally starting with the Shafrir (Hebrew: שפריר‎, loosely translated as Dragonfly, a male form of inflection for Damselfly (שפרירית)) series, the Shafrir-1 missile was developed in 1959, followed by the Shafrir-2 in early 1970s. Subsequently, the missiles were given the western name of "Python" by the parent company for export purposes, starting with the Python-3 in 1978. Since then, it has been further developed and evolved into the Python-4, Python-5, Derby and also, the SPYDER, an advanced ground-based air-defence system. Currently, the missiles are in service with the armed forces of over fifteen countries from around the world.

Python (missile)
Class Missile
Type Air to Air
Manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems
Origin Israel
Country Name Origin Year
Israel 1961
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Argentina View
Bolivia View
Brazil View
Chile View
China View
Colombia View
Ecuador View
El Salvador View
Honduras View
India View
Israel View
Romania View
Singapore View
South Africa View
Thailand (Siam) View
Venezuela View
Taiwan View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems 1961 View

In the 1950s, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) submitted requirements for a domestically-made air-to-air missile, to promote domestic defense industry and reduce reliance on imports. Rafael Armament Development Authority was contracted to develop the Shafrir (Hebrew: loosely translated as Dragonfly, a male form of inflection for Damselfly) in 1959. The missile entered operational status with Israeli Mirage jets in 1963, but the IAF was unhappy with its performance and no air combat kills were achieved with it during the Six-Day War, kills being made with guns instead. The improved Shafrir-2 was soon introduced in 1971, it proved to be one of the most successful and deadly missiles ever made. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the IAF launched 176 Shafrir-2 missiles, destroying 89 enemy aircraft. The Shafrir-2 was exported along with Israeli-made aircraft to South American countries.

After the Shafrir-2, the new missiles made by Rafael were given the western name of Python. This is why the next missile built by Rafael in early 1970s was named Python-3, but there is no Python-1 or Python-2 (they were Shafrir-1, Shafrir-2). The Python-3 has improved range and all-aspect attack ability, it proved itself before and during the 1982 Lebanon War, destroying 35 enemy aircraft. The People's Republic of China was impressed with its performance and license-built the Python-3 as the PiLi-8 (PL-8) AAM.

Further improvements on the Python-3 lead to the development of Python-4 in mid-1980s, which had limited "fire-and-forget" ability but added the option for helmet-sight guidance. In the 1990s Rafael started development on the Python-5 AAM, which was equipped with an advanced electro-optical imaging seeker with lock-on after-launch ability. The new missile was show-cased in 2003 Paris Air Show, and intended for service with IAF the F-15I Ra'am ("Thunder") and the F-16I Sufa ("Storm").

The Python-5 is said to have full sphere launch ability or is an all-aspect missile, meaning it can be launched at a target regardless of the target's location relative to the direction of the launching aircraft. It can lock on to targets after launch, even when they are up to 100 degrees off the boresight of the launching aircraft.


The Shafrir-1 was developed in 1959–1964 to fulfill IAF's requirement for a domestic air-to-air missile. It was intended to build the domestic defense industry's abilities, and reduce reliance on foreign imports. The fear on foreign dependence was later proven when France banned arms export to Israel.

The Shafrir-1 was intended for use on French-built Mirage jets. The first testing took place in France in 1963. However the missile's performance was so poor that they immediately started on the next improved version, the Shafrir-2.

  • Length: 250 cm (2.5 m)
  • Span: 55 cm
  • Diameter: 14 cm
  • Weight: 65 kg
  • Guidance: IR
  • Warhead: 11 kg blast explosive, later 30 kg
  • Range: 5 km
  • Speed: ??


The Shafrir-2 was credited with 89 kills in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. During its whole service life, it is credited with a total of 106 kills.

  • Length: 250 cm (2.5 m)
  • Span: 55 cm
  • Diameter: 15 cm
  • Weight: 93 kg
  • Guidance: IR
  • Warhead: 11 kg
  • Range: 5 km
  • Speed: ??


The Python-3 is a much-improved AAM with all-aspect attack ability, higher speed, range, and performance. It performed well before and during the 1982 Lebanon War, scoring 35 (other sources claim 50) kills.

China's PLAAF was quite impressed with this missile, and paid for licensed production as the PL-8 AAM in the 1980s. The program code named "Number 8 Project" and formally started on September 15, 1983. 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. The major supplier of the missile was Xi'an Eastern Machinery Factory located at Xi'an, and China is also reported to have developed a helmet-mounted sight (HMS) system for the PL-8.

  • Length: 295 cm
  • Span: 80 cm
  • Diameter: 16 cm
  • Weight: 120 kg
  • Guidance: IR
  • Warhead: 11 kg, active proximity fuse
  • Range: 15 km
  • Speed: Mach 3.5


The Python-4 is a 4th generation AAM with all-aspect attack ability, and integration with a helmet-mounted sight (HMS) system.[6] It entered service in the 1990s, and like its predecessor Python-3, it is integrated with the Elbit Systems DASH (Display And Sight Helmet) HMS system for Israeli F-15s and F-16s, Chilean F-16s (MLU and C/D block 50/52 plus), F-5E/F Tiger III, South-Americans Kfirs and SAAB Jas-39 Gripen. The missile's seeker is reported to use dual band technology array similar to that of US FIM-92 Stinger (infrared homing and ultraviolet), with IRCCM (IR ECCM) ability to reduce background IR radiation to reduce the effectiveness of enemy flares.

  • Length: 300 cm
  • Span: 50 cm
  • Diameter: 16 cm
  • Weight: 120 kg
  • Guidance: IR
  • Warhead: 11 kg, active laser proximity fuse with back-up impact fuse
  • Range: 15 km
  • Speed: Mach 3.5 or more


The Python-5 is currently the most capable air-to-air missile in Israel's inventory and one of the most advanced AAMs in the world. As a beyond-visual-range missile, it is capable of "lock-on after launch" (LOAL), and has all-aspect/all-direction (including rearward) attack ability. The missile features an advanced electro-optical infrared homing seeker which scans the target area for hostile aircraft, then locks-on for terminal chase. With a total of eighteen control surfaces and careful design, the resulting missile is supposed to be as maneuverable as any other air-to-air missiles with thrust vectoring nozzles. The Python-5 was first used in combat during the 2006 Lebanon War, when it was used by F-16 Fighting Falcons to destroy two Iranian-made Ababil UAVs used by the Hezbollah.

  • Length: 310 cm
  • Span: 64 cm
  • Diameter: 16 cm
  • Weight: 105 kg
  • Guidance: IR + electro-optical imaging
  • Warhead: 11 kg
  • Range: >20 km
  • Speed: Mach 4

Type Short-range air-to-air missile
Place of origin Israel
Service history
Used by See operators
Production history
Manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems
Unit cost Shafrir series: Shafrir-1: US$20,000
Produced Shafrir series: 1961–1983
Python series: 1978–present
Weight 103.6 kilograms (228 pounds6 ounces)
Length 3.1 metres (10 feet)
Diameter 160 millimetres (6.3 inches)
Warhead 11 kg (24 lb 4 oz)
Engine solid fuel rocket motor
Wingspan 640 mm (25 in)
>20 kilometres (12 miles)
Flight altitude N/A
Speed Mach 4
infrared homing + 320×240 pixel dual waveband electro-optical imaging seeker, lock on after launch, with infrared counter-counter-measures(IRCCM)
CASA C-101 Aviojet
F-4E Kurnass 2000
F-5E/F Tiger-II
McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon
Dassault Mirage III
Dassault Mirage 5
Dassault Mirage 2000
IAI Nesher/Dagger/Finger
IAI Kfir
BAE Sea Harrier
HAL Tejas
SAAB Gripen NG
Sukhoi Su-30MKI
Su-25KM Scorpion

End notes