Rafael Arms F-16 Fighters With Israeli Python Air-To-Air Missiles; US AIM-9 Sidewinder ‘Sidelined’ For RSAF Jets

The Royal Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has revealed that its newly upgraded F-16 fighter jets have been armed with Israeli-origin Python 5 air-to-air missiles to make the aircraft more combat-capable and lethal as part of its modernization program.

Earlier in July, reports in some publications hinted that the upgraded Lockheed Martin F-16 C/D/D+ fighter jets of the RSAF were equipped with cutting-edge missiles produced by Israeli defense firm Rafael.

The reports cited unnamed Singapore Defense officials to report the development, albeit without an official confirmation.

However, more than a month later, it is only now that a confirmation has been displayed on an information board at a booth put up at Paya Lebar Air Base to show the aircraft. Janes reported that the base will be opened to visitors later this week as part of RSAF’s 55th anniversary.

The delivery of upgraded F-16 fighters from manufacturer Lockheed Martin started in 2021. The upgrades will keep the jets operational and capable for another decade, said Chief of Air Force Major-General Kelvin Khong in February 2022.

The RSAF is acquiring the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft to add more teeth to its air power amid regional security threats.

The information about the Python-5 air-to-air missile being equipped on an upgraded F-16 of the RSAF wasn’t astonishing because the service has been known to possess the Python-4 for two decades. However, they have barely ever admitted to using the missile.

These missiles are notorious for being imported and used secretly as they have fins similar to the AIM-9P and are often misinterpreted as American missiles. An Australia-based defense reporter, Mike Yeo, noted that since the RSAF began equipping its modern F-16s with Python-4 over 20 years ago, “they have never been seen” outside of training drills.

Notably, the RSAF has confirmed the integration of the Python-5 missile on its upgraded F-16 Fighting Falcons. Israel’s air-to-air missiles are believed to be one of the most advanced and potent in the world, making integrating Python on the upgraded RSAF F-16s even more significant.

Rafael developed the Python series of infrared-guided AAMs based on the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) experience with first-generation heat-seeking weapons during air combat in the 1960s and 1970s. Python 4, for instance, is supposed to maneuver at up to 70g and have a 60-degree high off-boresight (HOBS) capability in close-quarters warfare.

The Python-4, which the RSAF likely uses, is also said to be able to turn 180 degrees after launch to intercept a target behind the launch aircraft. Additionally, Python-4 includes more control surfaces and underwent external adjustments. It has an infrared counter-countermeasures (IRCCM) system and a dual-waveband imaging infrared (IIR) seeker.

On the other hand, the most recent Python-5 is enhanced in several ways, notably in its capacity to shoot down targets with minor signatures, such as drones and cruise missiles, and is externally almost identical to Python-4.

Python-5 For Singapore’s Upgraded F-16 Fighters

Singapore has upgraded its F-16 fleet to a standard similar to the F-16V by adding the sophisticated Python-5. The aircraft has also been equipped with Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), and GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb.

It has become clear that the RSAF has chosen Python 5 over the AIM-9X Sidewinder, which was also initially anticipated to be incorporated on the aircraft.

The most recent addition to the Israeli Python air-to-air missile family, Python-5 is a fifth-generation air-to-air missile (AAM) with a relatively low engagement range, operating close to beyond visual ranges. One of the most advanced guided missiles in the world, Python-5 is the Israeli Air Force’s most precise and reliable AAM.

The missile has a complex design that uses 18 aerodynamic surfaces and an advanced seeker that comprises an electro-optical and imaging infrared homing seeker that searches the target area for hostile aircraft before locking it for terminal pursuit.

Python-5 is a dual-purpose missile that may be used for surface-to-air and air-to-air missions. It combines advanced infrared counter-countermeasure (IRCCM) and flight control technologies with a fifth-generation image seeker and contemporary software.

Lock-on-before-launch (LOBL) and lock-on-after-launch (LOAL) features are also available in Python-5. In LOAL mode, the missile receives the target data from the launch aircraft. The missile has a high probability of hitting its target and remarkable resilience against defenses. It can even engage targets that are capable of evasive moves.

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Python-5 missile (via Platform X)

The entire sphere launch capability makes a 360° interaction surrounding the launch aircraft possible. Moreover, the missile simultaneously annihilates numerous targets with its all-aspect/all-direction attack capabilities.

The Python-5 made its combat debut in the 2006 Lebanon War when F-16 Fighting Falcons used it to take out two Hezbollah-owned Ababil UAVs built in Iran. On May 13, 2021, an Israeli F-16 with a Python-5 air-to-air missile downed a Shehab suicide drone operated by Hamas.

Python-5 can be integrated with a wide range of aircraft, including the F-35s that the RSAF is also slated to acquire. Some military watchers believe that the RSAF is comfortable admitting the use of the Python-5 even as opposed to the Python-4 because it already uses the Rafael Spyder air defense system, which is armed with both Python 5 and radar-guided Rafael Derby missiles.