How Does Python-5 Missile Outfitted On LCA Tejas Compete Against PL-10 Missile Of JF-17 Thunder & J-20 Fighters?

In a major success for India’s LCA Tejas, the 5th-gen Python-5 Air-to-Air Missile (AAM) has been integrated into its air-to-air weapons capability while Pakistan’s JF-17 was recently seen with the latest Chinese BVR missile – PL-10.

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India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) announced the landmark achievement on 27th April, saying LCA Tejas was now allowed to carry the fifth-generation short-range missile.

After Derby short-range air-to-air missile, Python-5 is the second Israeli origin missile to be integrated with Tejas.

“Trials were also aimed to validate enhanced capability of already integrated Derby Beyond Visual Range (BVR) AAM,” DRDO tweet read.

Developed by Israel’s Rafael, Python-5, is an all-aspect missile equipped with a dual-band imaging infrared (IIR) seeker. The range exceeds 20 km, and the missile has an optional Lock On After Launch mode and has limited BVR capability.

Tejas is now equipped or tested with at least four air-to-air missiles, which includes Python-5, R-73E, Derby and I-Derby. India’s own fighter aircraft is going to have increased export potential with a wide range of weapons it can carry, making it the most versatile fighter in IAF’s fleet.

Tejas is gradually preparing itself for air-to-air engagement, but it needs long-range air-to-air missiles to emerge as a potent fighter. When it comes to range, Pakistan’s JF-17, for now, is superior to the Indian Tejas.

Just a day after India reported the integration of the Python-5 missile on its indigenous platform, Global Times reported that JF-17 Block 3 fighter jet, produced jointly by China and Pakistan, was spotted with PL-10 air-to-air missile, which also powers China’s fifth-generation J-20 aircraft.

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The article said that previous JF-17s were armed with the old PL-5 missiles, and the new short-range combat missile “represents the highest level of its kind.”

PL-10 arming the JF-17’s newest variants is likely an export variant PL-10E, which is a domestically developed, fourth-generation air-to-air missile. According to Liang Xiaogeng, chief designer of the missile, “it is one of the most advanced in the world that is on par with the US’AIM-9X,” he told the Global Times.

The JF-17 Block 3 fighter, which will also be deployed by Pakistan, is expected to gain exceptional close-combat capability with the new missile, with the fighter jet likely to gain an edge even its more advanced opponents, the experts say.

LCA Tejas’ Python-5 Missile vs JF-17’s PL-10 Missile

According to an Indian veteran pilot who did not wish to be named told the EurAsian Times that PL-10 is inferior to Python-5, which has more range and full hemisphere coverage, something not enjoyed by its Chinese counterpart. The PL-10 is claimed to be a Short Range IIR, with 90 Deg off-boresight launch capability, he said.

Python-5, like most short-range air-to-air missiles produced since the late 1990s, is a ‘High off-Boresight’ (HBOS) weapon, which can be fired at extreme angles from a pilot’s line of sight. With such capability, a fighter pilot can literally aim at a target only by looking at it, instead of turning his aircraft towards it.

Whereas, the PL-10 is known as an advanced dogfight weapon, designed to confront a wide variety of missiles such as the AIM-132 ASRAAM, IRIS-T, A-Darter and the AIM-9X.

The Chinese missile also comes with a multi-element imaging infrared (IIR) seeker and a laser proximity fuse. Additionally, it comes with a thrust vectoring motor, with an off-bore-sight capability of 90 degrees.

Like the Israeli Python-5, PL-10 also comes with a ‘lock on after launch’ (LOAL) capability, enabling it with beyond the within visual range (BVR) capability. Although compared to PL-10, the Israeli missile’s BVR capability is limited.

What sets Python-5 apart is that it has been battle-tested in wars around the world and has turned out to be a reliable weapon against powerful adversaries. One cannot say the same thing about the Chinese PL-10, which supposedly comes with advanced capabilities according to its makers.

The experts regard Python-5 as a more reliable and advanced missile than its Chinese counterpart.

According to air commodore K.B. Menon, fifth-generation air-to-air missiles “have far better seekers that allow the missile to ‘see’ images rather than detect points of infra-red radiation”.

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Such ‘imaging infrared’ seekers enable a missile to detect and avoid infra-red countermeasures such as flares launched by an enemy aircraft and even target particular parts of an enemy aircraft, instead of merely focusing on heat emanating from the engine.

Additionally, the presence of imaging infrared seeker and sophisticated algorithms onboard Python-5 enables it to acquire small and low-signature targets, which includes even the UAVs and cruise missiles.

The R-73 heat-seeking missile employed for decades by the IAF aircraft lacked an IIR seeker, making it vulnerable to modern countermeasures. The weapon is no longer employable in modern warfare when the adversaries have upped their game with the deployment of advanced missiles.

The integration of the latest generation of Python missiles, therefore, gives India’s LCA Tejas a definitive edge over its competitors, and significantly raises its credibility in the international market.