The PL-8 is a Chinese air-to-air missile (AAM) originated from the Israeli Python-3 AAM, (PL short for Pili (Pi Li, 霹雳), meaning thunderbolt). Experience gained from PL-8/Python-3 had helped China greatly in developing its next missile, the PL-9.
PL-8是中国的一种空对空导弹（AAM），起源于以色列的“怪蛇”（Python）-3 AAM（Pili是霹雳（Pi Li，霹雳）的缩写，意为霹雳）。 从PL-8/ Python-3获得的经验极大地帮助了中国开发其下一代导弹PL-9。
China's PLAAF was quite impressed with this missile, and paid for licensed production as the PL-8 AAM in the 1980s. The program was code named "Number 8 Project" (八号工程) and formally started on September 15, 1983. The major supplier of the missile was Xi'an Eastern Machinery Factory (西安东方机械厂) located in Xi'an. From March 1988 to April 1989, technology transfer to China was complete while license assembly and license built parts continued, and by the spring of 1989, the complete domestic Chinese built missile received state certification.
China has also developed a helmet-mounted sight (HMS) system for the PL-8. Elbit Systems DASH (Display And Sight Helmet) helmet mounted sight (HMS). However, it’s not clear that if this was part of the Python-3 deal or a separate deal instead.
The seeker of the original Python-3 AAM was able to be slaved to either the airborne fire control radars or DASH HMS. These capabilities initially did not exist on PL-8 at the earlier stage of its service in Chinese hands, because the missile is only compatible with western radars, but not compatible with Chinese radars. The only exception was that capability of being slaved to airborne fire control radars could be achieved by PL-8 only when it is used in conjunction with the few western radars in Chinese inventory, such as the British GEC-Marconi Skyranger airborne radar and Italian FIAR Grifo series airborne radar on Chengdu J-7, but for most part, the seeker of PL-8 could only be fixed, pointing to the front when deployed on aircraft with domestic Chinese radars. These capabilities would not be fully achieved until the advent of PL-9, the next Chinese AAM, when the missile became compatible not only with western radars, but also Chinese and Russian radars as well, and these capabilities of PL-9 were eventually incorporated to PL-8 AAMs in its upgrades so that PL-8 is fully capable as Python-3.
最初的Python-3空对空导弹的导引头能够被机载火控雷达或DASH HMS所控制。这些能力最初在PL-8服役初期并不存在于中国人手中，因为该导弹仅与西方雷达兼容，而与中国雷达不兼容。唯一的例外是，只有与中国库存中的少数西方雷达配合使用时，例如英国GEC-Marconi Skyranger机载雷达和成都J-7上的意大利FIAR Grifo系列机载雷达，才能实现从机载火控雷达中获得控制PL-8能力，但是在大多数情况下，PL-8的导引头只能固定，当部署在装有中国国产雷达的飞机上时指向前方。直到下一代中国空对空导弹PL-9出现时，这些能力才能完全实现，当时该导弹不仅与西方雷达兼容，而且也与中国和俄罗斯雷达兼容，并且最终合并了PL-9的这些功能升级到PL-8空对空导弹上，以便PL-8完全具备Python-3的功能。
Two PL-8 AAMs are spotted clearly on a Chinese Navy's Shenyang J-8 interceptor
Unlike the conventional Chinese designation practice where a missile is given a Chinese name after at least 70% of it is made in China, Python 3 received a Chinese name at the very beginning, receiving PL-8 when it was purchased. It was speculated that China did so because it did not want to further reveal its tie with Israel, so that the original Israeli name was replaced with a Chinese one to avoid harming the relationship between Chinese and Muslim countries.
As PL-8/Python 3 AAM has wing span much larger than PL-2/PL-5 (which has dimensions close to AIM-9 missiles), Chinese fighter jets were modified to carry extended pylon to carry PL-8 missiles. Wingtip pylon of newly released J-15 carrier based fighter jet is also extended for this purpose, and become a visual signature of J-15 comparing Su-33.
PL-8: Python 3 AAM provided by Israel
PL-8A: License assembled AAM in China with Israeli supplied components
PL-8B: Chinese built AAM with 100% domestic Chinese components
PL-8H: Surface-to-air version with slightly smaller warhead weighing 10 kg
The surface-to-air version is developed by China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC). According to the developers, there are minor improvements incorporated in each version, but they have not specified the exact upgrades.
PL-8:Python 3空对空导弹 由以色列提供
Type air-to-air missile and Surface-to-air missile
Place of origin China
In service 1988 to present
Used by China
Manufacturer Xi'an Eastern Machinery Factory and CATIC
Produced 1988 to 1990’s
Weight 115 kg
Length 2.95 meter
Diameter 160 mm
Warhead 11 kg high explosive
mechanism Impact / Proximity
Engine solid rocket
Wingspan 800 mm
Propellant solid fuel
range 20 km
Flight ceiling 21 km
Flight altitude 0.5 km minimum
Speed ≈ Mach 3.5
system passive infrared homing
platform aerial and ground