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 Armament Development Authority, and the MBT Missile Division and Elta Radar Division of Israel Aircraft Industries.
Rafael is the prime contractor and IAI the major subcontractor for the SPYDER programme. SPYDER is capable of engaging aircraft, helicopters, unmanned air vehicles, and precision-guided munitions. It provides air defence for fixed assets and for 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.
SPYDER orders and deliveries
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 (IAF) in 2017.
The Czech Ministry of Defence selected the SPYDER system in September 2020 and started the 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 CZK13.69bn ($617m) are expected to be completed by 2026.
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.
SPYDER-MR medium-range surface-to-air missile launcher Rafael developed a medium-range version, SPYDER-MR, which has a range 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 missile supply vehicle.
The vehicles are air-conditioned and also provide protection against biological and chemical warfare (BCW). 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 on to the target before launch. The LOBL mode allows the Squadron Commander to confirm the missile is locked on to 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 (ASP) 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 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 (IFF) interrogator and communication equipment. The VHF/UHF interference-free communication system is for internal squadron communication and to 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 (ECCM) 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.
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 the 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.
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.