The US Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard (ANG) have begun to investigate the possible purchase of the Israeli-built Rafael Python 4 air-to-air missile as a stopgap to arm the Lockheed Martin F-16 until the Raytheon AIM-9X can be fielded.

Rafael's international marketing partner, Lockheed Martin, in response to growing local interest, has briefed the ANG and Reserve on the missile's performance. Python 4 is being offered as an interim solution rather than an alternative to the AIM-9X, which is in development for the USAF and Navy.

The new US missile is facing development delays - including a 15-month slip in initial testing - and will not be operational until at least 2003. Priority will then be given to equipping the USAF's Boeing F-15 air superiority fighters and the Navy's Boeing F/A-18E/Fs. "The ANG and Reserves F-16s are well down the supply chain," says an industry source.

Faced with proliferating numbers of the highly agile Russian-built Vympel R-73/AA-11 Archer in foreign air forces, the USAF is having to develop tactics to counter high off-boresight missile tactics in the absence of a more modern replacement for the AIM-9L/M. The Python 4 has been integrated with Israeli air force F-16A/Bs and the more advanced F-16C/Ds.

Rafael has sold its Litening II targeting and navigation pod to the ANG to equip its F-16s with the help of local partner Northrop Grumman.

Source: Flight International