PiLi-8 Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile
The PiLi-8 (PL-8) is a Chinese copy of the Israeli Rafael Python-3 infrared-homing short-range air-to-air missile (SRAAM) produced under license. The missile has been developed by China Academy of Air-to-Air Missile (previously known as 607 Institute) based in Luoyang, Henna Province. The missile has been serving with the PLA since the early 1990s as a standard close-range air combat weapon for its new-generation indigenous fighters such as J-7E/G, J-8B/D, and J-10. A surface-to-air version of the missile was developed but did not enter production.
Python 3 is a third-generation short- to medium-range air-to-air missile developed by Israel in the early 1980s to arm its F-15, F-16 and Mirage fighter fleet. The missile took part in the 1982 Fifth Middle-East War (Lebanon War) against Syrian aircraft before its design was even finalised. The Israeli Air Force claimed that the missile had better performance in speed, turning radius, and range compared to the U.S. AIM-9L Sidewinder. China and Israel agreed on the deal to purchase a small number of the Python 3 as well as a co-production in 1982, and the delivery of the missile began in September 1983. The PLAAF test fired some Python 3 missiles provided by Israel and was highly satisfied with its performance. The development of the Python 3 copy began in 1983. Israel has reportedly supplied 1,200 sets of Python 3 kits for licensed local production of the missile in China.
To streamline the design, development, manufacture, and marketing of the air-to-air missile, in the mid-1980s China integrated most of its air-to-air missile R&D teams and manufacturing facilities located in different regions into one AAM complex, known as Luoyang Electro-Optics Technology Development Centre (EOTDC). The PL-8 became the first project undertaken by the new organisation. In 2002 the centre was rename as China Academy of Air-to-Air Missile after Shaanxi Hanzhong Air-to-Air Missile Factory (also known as Hanzhong Nanfeng Machine Factory or 202 Factory) was relocated to Luoyang and merged with the centre.
The first batch of Chinese-assembled Python 3 using Israeli kits rolled out between March 1988 and April 1989. The missile was given an official designation PL-8. The Python 3 seeker technology was also used to upgrade China’s own indigenous PL-9 air-to-air missile programme. The PL-8 was possibly tested in the early 1990s and the batch production began thereafter. The Israeli-made contents on these missiles were gradually reduced and by the late 1990s China was able to produce the missile using 100% indigenously made components.
The PL-8 is the PLA’s first AAM with all-aspect attack capability. Unlike the older generation AAMs such as PL-2 and PL-5, the PL-8 does not require the pilot to steer his plane to aim the enemy plane to fire the missile. Instead, the missile can be fired immediately after the enemy plane enters a 30 degree cone of target zone. Later variants of the PL-8 is said to be able to use in conjunction with the helmet-mounted sight (HMS) to improve the performance. The missile is mainly used to arm the high-performance fighters such as J-8B/D and J-10, while the older PL-5 is being used to arm low-performance fighters such as J-7 and ground attack aircraft such as JH-7 and Q-5.
The PL-8 resembles the Python 3 in appearance. The missile features four front canard control surfaces located near the missile nose, and four large stabilising fins near the tail. The IR seeker is located at the nose of the missile, followed by the warhead and fuse section. The missile is powered by a single solid rocket motor.
Main features of the PL-8 include:
- All-aspect capability, including head-on interception
- Effective against most evasive tactics
- Capable of intercepting low-signature and low-altitude threats
- 15km maximum effective range at high altitude
- Active proximity fuse, based on lead bias navigation system
- Highly efficient warhead
- Versatile target acquisition modes, including slaving to advanced radar system
- Reliability greater than 95%
Missile length: 2.99m
Missile diameter: 0.16m
Launch weight: 115kg
Warhead: 10kg HE
Propulsion: One solid-propellant rocket motor
Speed: Mach 2
G Limit: 35G
Guidance: All-aspect infrared (helmet-mounted sight guidance
in later versions)
Last update: 12 October 2008