The SPYDER launcher can carry any combination of four Python 5 or Derby missiles. Credit: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.
The SPYDER low-level surface-to-air missile system can engage aircraft, helicopters, unmanned air vehicles, and precision-guided munitions.
A typical SPYDER squadron comprises a mobile command and control unit and four mobile firing units.

The surface-to-air Python 5 and Derby air defence missile system (SPYDER) is a low-level quick-reaction surface-to-air missile system developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (Rafael), and the MBT Missile Division and Elta Radar Division of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).

Rafael is the prime contractor and IAI is the major subcontractor for the SPYDER programme. SPYDER is capable of engaging aircraft, helicopters, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), and precision-guided munitions.

It provides air defence for fixed assets and point and area defence for mobile forces in combat areas. The SPYDER launcher is designed to fire Python 5 and Derby surface-to-air missiles.

In January 2024, Rafael successfully completed testing of the SPYDER air defence system in the new All in One (AiO) configuration.

Conducted in collaboration with the Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the test involved a precise interception of a UAV during a complex operational scenario.

SPYDER-SR short-range surface-to-air missile launcher

The SPYDER-SR (short-range) system has 360° engagement capability and the missiles can be launched from the full-readiness state in less than five seconds from target confirmation. The kill range is from less than 1km to more than 15km and at altitudes from a minimum of 20m to a maximum of 9,000m. The system is capable of multi-target simultaneous engagement and also single, multiple and ripple firing, by day and night and in all weathers.

The SPYDER-SR (short-range) system was displayed for the first time at the Paris Air Show 2005 in Le Bourget.

Rafael then developed a medium-range version, SPYDER-MR, which has a range of over 35km at altitudes from 20m to 16km. SPYDER-MR carries eight missiles while SPYDER-SR has four. SPYDER-MR also has a new IAI/Elta MF-STAR surveillance radar.

SPYDER missile system components

The main components of the SPYDER system are the truck-mounted command and control unit, the missile firing unit with Python 5 and Derby missiles, a field service vehicle and a missile supply vehicle.

The vehicles are air-conditioned and protect against biological and chemical warfare. The system is based on a modular design and system maintenance in the field is through very quick module replacement.

Python 5 and Derby missile launcher modes of operation

The system can launch missiles in two modes of operation: lock on before launch (LOBL) and lock on after launch (LOAL). The slant launching method, unlike vertical launch, allows LOBL so the missile’s on-board seeker is locked onto the target before launch. The LOBL mode allows the Squadron Commander to confirm the missile is locked onto the designated target prior to launch, gives high kill probability against short-range high-manoeuvring targets and enables the engagement of designated targets by add-on optical sensors.

SPYDER command and control and mobile firing units

A typical SPYDER squadron consists of one mobile command and control unit (CCU) and four mobile firing units (MFU).

The CCU and MFUs each have their own built-in power supplies. The system features an automated computer, assisting the operators in the successful completion of hostile target interceptions in intense battlefield environments. The mobile CCU is equipped with a surveillance radar and two operator stations. There is a radio datalink between the CCU and the four MFUs.

The CCU combines data from the local surveillance radar and from upper-tier command and control centres up to 100km away. There is also provision for receiving air situation pictures from other datalinks.

The air situation picture is displayed at the operator’s workstation in the command centre. When the operator decides to launch, an automatic procedure is initiated. The CCU assigns the target to the appropriate launch unit.

The missile is launched in LOBL mode if the target is within acquisition range and in LOAL mode if the target is beyond seeker acquisition range. The seeker searches for the target and switches to the homing phase when the target is acquired.

Both the Derby and the Python 5 missiles can operate in LOBL and LOAL modes. The target is destroyed by the warhead blasting on impact or by proximity fuse.

Truck-mounted command and control unit

The command and control unit is housed in a truck-mounted shelter with a mounted radar, information friend-or-foe interrogator and communication equipment. The VHF/UHF interference-free communication system is for internal squadron communication and upper-tier command.

Elta EL/M 2106 ATAR 3D surveillance radar

The Elta EL/M 2106 ATAR 3D surveillance radar can simultaneously track up to 60 targets. The radar has 360° operation and all-weather day and night capability. The radar includes advanced electronic counter-countermeasures for operation in dense hostile electronic warfare environments.

Truck-mounted missile launcher SPYDER uses a truck-mounted missile firing unit which is equipped with a communications system and fitted with a 360° rotatable, electro-mechanically operated, turret-based launch unit. The SPYDER-SR launch unit carries any combination of four Python 5 or Derby missiles.

SPYDER All-in-One (AiO) configuration

The SPYDER AiO is a versatile, self-sufficient air defence system designed for rapid deployment and adaptability to challenging terrains.

The main components include radar, electro-optical targeting, and a sophisticated CCU, all integrated into a unified platform. It also includes two cabin workstations, a launcher, surveillance and fire control sensors on an erectable mast.

In addition, the system features a four-panel, full-phased 360° non-rotating surveillance and fire control radar array, electro-optical sensor, up to eight canistered missiles, a power supply system and an 8×8 high-mobility vehicle chassis.

The SPYDER AiO boasts a maximum missile range of 40km, an intercept altitude of 12km, and can engage up to four targets simultaneously or control four missiles. It transitions from mobility to combat readiness in three minutes, has a recovery time of three minutes and weighs 30t.

It is particularly suitable for safeguarding essential elements such as deployed and mobile forces, as well as high-value locations. It provides defence against a broad spectrum of airborne dangers including fixed and rotary-wing aircraft.

SPYDER AiO radars can function independently or integrated with a command and control (C2) system to identify threats while in motion and swiftly switch to fire-on-the-halt mode.

The system can be operated from the cabin workstations, allowing the crew to remain safely inside the vehicle’s cabin throughout the operation.

SPYDER with counter-TBM capability

In January 2023, Rafael announced an upgrade to the SPYDER system, integrating advanced counter-tactical ballistic missile (counter-TBM) capability.

The development stems from Rafael’s Counter-TBM SPYDER programme, which was dedicated to studying and assimilating insights from recent and current military conflicts that have seen the significant deployment of tactical ballistic missiles.

The programme will enhance the functionalities of the SPYDER’s defensive tools, along with integrating a range of counter-TBM adaptations into the system to address immediate operational needs from multiple current clients globally.

Python 5 missile

The Python 5 missile is Rafael’s new very high agility dogfight air-to-air missile. Python 5 is a development of Python 4 with a dual-band focal plane array and imaging infrared (IIR) seeker which gives a very wide field of view.

Python 5 retains the same airframe – with pitch and yaw control, delta-shaped canards and two roll control swept fins and the same rocket motor, warhead and fuse – as the Python 4 missile. The wide field of view allows LOAL at an angle of more than 100° off boresight. The dual-band seeker gives increased detection range, improved target discrimination against background clutter and a lower false target acquisition rate.

In LOAL mode, the target data is transferred from the command and control unit via the launcher to the missile. The missile’s guidance and control systems are active for a three times longer period than for the earlier Python, enabling the missile to counter targets making evasive manoeuvres. The high explosive fragmentation warhead is fitted with an active laser proximity fuse.

Derby missile

The Derby missile is a medium-range, active radar-guided missile originally developed for the air-to-air role. The air defence missile has all-weather and beyond visual range capability.

Derby has a similar body design to the Python missile. An active RF radar / infrared seeker, developed by IAI, is installed in the nose of the missile. The missile incorporates an advanced programmable ECCM system. Derby operates in LOBL mode for short-range target engagement and LOAL mode for medium-range engagements.

SPYDER orders and deliveries

In November 2022, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) received the first two batteries of the Spyder system under a contract valued at PHP6.8m ($0.12m) signed in September 2019. The contract encompasses integrated logistics support, a simulator, a missile repair facility and air defence systems missile training for personnel.

Renamed as the SPYDER Philippines Air Defense System (SPADS), the system serves as the primary weapon of the PAF’s 960th Air and Missile Defense Group and provides a secondary air defence cover for the PAF. A third battery of the system is expected to be delivered by May 2024.

The Czech Ministry of Defence selected the SPYDER system in September 2020 and began negotiations for the procurement of four batteries of the SPYDER air defence system. An inter-governmental agreement was signed between the two countries for the supply of four batteries in October 2021.

The missile systems will be manufactured as per the specifications of the Czech Army and in partnership with Czech companies RETIA and Vojenský technický ústav. The deliveries under the contract worth Kč13.69bn ($617m) are expected to be completed by 2026.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) replaced its RAPIER air defence system with the SPYDER air defence system in 2011. The system achieved full operational capability in July 2018 and became part of the RSAF’s upgraded Island Air Defence system.

SPYDER was selected by the Indian Armed Forces in June 2006. The procurement was finally approved by the approved by the Indian Defence Acquisitions Council in July 2008. A contract worth $1bn for 18 SPYDER systems was awarded to Rafael in September 2008. The SPYDER air defence system was inducted into the Indian Air Force in 2017.