A new generation of missile technology is now being developed, mostly in secret in the laboratories of IsraelÂs industrial competitors around the world, including the
Whereas the previous wave of missile technology introduced lock-on after launch capability, the next generation of air-to-air missiles will seek to fly further, but deliver the same punch within the dimensions of so-called fifth-generation missiles.
If they work, the range of next-generation missiles will finally catch up with the reach of the latest generation of active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, but still fit inside the same weapons bays that are critical to maintaining the stealth characteristics of modern fighters.
In line with a national objective for missile self-sufficiency, Israeli state-owned manufacturer
RafaelÂs approach also reveals an intrinsic scepticism about the USAÂs embrace of an almost exclusively beyond visual range approach to future air combat.
"Therefore, we continue to develop advanced air-to-air missiles," Potasman says.
The Python-5, which is operational with the Israeli air force and other air forces, is one of the most advanced fifth-generation air-to-air missiles.
Sources say that based on past experience the company is working on a "very advanced, very surprising missile that will surpass any other air-to-air missile in the world".
The infrared-guided Python-5 belongs to the same class of air-to-air missile as the Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder. It can engage enemy aircraft from very short ranges and near-beyond visual range. The Python-5 is the most accurate and reliable air-to-air missile used by the Israeli air force, and one of the most sophisticated guided missiles in the world.
Experts have said on many occasions that the Python-5 is a "super agile" air-to-air missile.
The Python-5 has a length of 3.1m (10ft), a wingspan of 64cm (25in) and a diameter of 16cm. The weight of the missile is 105kg (232lb). It can carry an 11kg high-explosive fragmentation warhead equipped with an active laser proximity fuse.
So far, the Israeli company has only admitted it is developing "building blocks" for a sixth-generation air-to-air missile.
As reported by
The dolphin head shape allows two seekers Â radar and infrared/electro-optical Â to function simultaneously with no interference, even in "extreme conditions".
The 4.6m Stunner uses a multi-pulse rocket motor and is equipped with a dual seeker. This, according to company sources, will ensure high sensitivity under all weather conditions and immunity to deception and countermeasures.
The Lockheed Martin F-35s the Israeli air force will receive from 2017 will be armed with advanced air-to-air missiles as part of their combat suite.
"We believe that even air-to-air confrontations that start [at] long ranges finally end in short range,Â says Druker, who was formerly head of the Python-5 programme. ÂThis is why the pilots of advanced fighter aircraft have targeting helmets.Â
Druker also explains that in dense airspace launching an air-to-air missile from long range can end in killing innocent people.
"The long-range target can be one of the force's other aircraft returning from a mission, or a civil aircraft,Â Druker says.
Druker says that when the Israeli air force was scrambled to intercept unmanned air systems used by the
"The pilots launched only when they were positive that the target was a hostile unmanned platform," Druker says.
Druker adds that the Python-5 is still considered the best air-to-air missile, and pointed to the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile programme, which is designed to have very long range capabilities.
"The supporting systems for such a missile are not yet available, and that is one reason that this programme is in its current status," he says.
Druker adds that as fighter aircraft become more stealthy, air-to-air missiles must be matched to overcome this obstacle. However, he was not ready to elaborate.
"It should have the long-range capability with a similar one in close range," he says.
The Israeli air force will receive its first Lockheed Martin F-35A in 2017.
On the question of adapting an air-to-air missile to this new platform, Druker said this will depend on solving some basic problems, as the missile will be carried in the weapons bay of the aircraft.
"How to allow the seeker to operate when in the bay, and how and when to ignite the booster are only two of a long list," he says.
The missile is 3.6m long and has a wingspan of 64cm, with a diameter of 16cm. The Derby weighs 118kg, including a 23kg warhead.
Druker says air-to-air beyond visual range missiles used to be those with a radar sensor. "Today we know to give a greater range to [infrared] missiles too, in spite of the fact that their nose section is not designed aerodynamically Â a fact that was a limiting factor," he says.
Druker says the need for radar-guided air-to-air missiles still exists, mainly because they are less influenced by electronic countermeasures.
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