September 17, 2006 (by James Dunnigan) - Three years after its introduction, the Israeli Python 5 air-to-air missile finally got its first combat kill. This happened on August 7th, when an Israeli F-16 was sent to shoot down a Hizbollah UAV off the coast.
An IDF/AF viper banking over the Golan heights, armed with 2 JDAMs, 2 Python 5 and 2 Sidewinder missiles. [IDF/AF photo]
The target was an Iranian Ababil. This is a 183 pound UAV
with a ten foot wing span, a payload of about 80 pounds, a cruising speed of 290 kilometers an hour and an endurance of 90 minutes. Using GPS
guidance, it could deliver about 60 pounds of explosives to a prominent Israeli government building in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. The Ababil normally carries a variety of day and night still and video cameras. Hizbollah is now using the Ababil as a cruise missile.
The Israeli company Rafael introduced the Python 5 air-to-air heat seeking missile in the Summer of 2003. The Python 5 can go after a target anywhere around the launching aircraft. The missile is an improved version of the 1993 Python 4. The Python 5 has the same weight and dimensions (295 pounds, ten feet long and 6.4 inches in diameter) as the Python 4, but uses much improved electronics and computing capability. The Python 5 sensors are immune to flares and can track very small targets (for a heat seeking missile), like helicopters, single engine propeller driven aircraft, cruise missiles and UAVs.) The missile is much more effective in cloudy or misty conditions. It also has an improved warhead and proximity fuse, making a kill more certain.
This incident makes it easier to sell the Python 5, because it has proven that it can take out small, and increasingly common, targets like UAVs.