K-13 (R-3 or Object 310)
PL-2 / PL-3 / PL-5
The 24 September 1958 Chinese acquisition of an American AIM-9B Sidewinder missile marked the beginning of a breakthrough in the development of Soviet air-to-air missiles. The missile, fired from a Taiwanese F-86 Sabre aircraft, lodged without exploding in a Chinese MiG-17. The missile was sent to Toropov's engineering office to be copied, and the product the K-13, long the most popular Soviet air-to-air missile. The Sidewinder had a number of valuable features, not least of which was the modular construction that facilitated ease in production and operation. The simplicity of the AIM-9 was in marked contrast to the complexity of contemporary Soviet missiles. The Sidewinder's infrared-guided homing head contained a free-running gyroscope and was much smaller than Soviet counterparts, and the steering and in-flight stabilization system were equally superior. Gennadiy Sokolovskiy, later chief engineer at the Vympel team, said that "the Sidewinder missile was to us a university offering a course in missile construction technology which has upgraded our engineering education and updated our approach to production of future missiles."
The Soviets soon made advances over the original Sidewinder model, making dozen of modifications to the initial design. In 1960 series-production of the K-13 missile (also called R-3 or Object 310) began. In 1962 the R-3S (K13A or Object 310) became the first version to be produced in large numbers, though its homing operation took much more time (22 seconds instead of 11 seconds). In 1961 development began of the high-altitude K-13R (R-3R or Object 320) with a semiactive radar head, which was entered service with combat aircraft in 1966. The training versions were the R-3U missiles ("uchebnaya", barrel with a homing set, not fired from an aircraft) and the R-3P ("prakticheskaya" differing from the combat version by absence of an explosive charge). The RM-3V (RM denoting "raketa-mishen" [target-missile] served as an aerial target.
During late 1960s the Vympel team began working on the K-13M (R-13M, Object 380) modification of the K-13 missile, which in 1973 was certified as an operational weapon. It has a cooled homing head, a radio rather than optical closing-in igniter, and a more potent warhead. Analogous modifications of the R-55 resulted in the R-55M missile. The last version of the K-13 is the R-13M1 with a modified steering apparatus.
The K-13 missile was produced in China as the PL-2 (updated versions PL-3 and PL-5) and also in Romania as the A-91.
After successfully examining and imitating the American sidewinder, the Soviet Union then gave the design and technical information of the K-13 to the Chinese along with a the schematics of the MiG-21. Duplicate production of the Soviet design began in 1964. Upon receiving the K-13, the Chinese began license production of the missile and redesignated it as the PL-2. Characteristically, the PL-2 missile featured a canard aerodynamic configuration, was slender, cylindrical, and semi‑spherical nose. The missile also had two pairs of triangular fins for control and two pairs of crossed trapezoidal wings. The PL-2 had a maximum speed of Mach 2.2. and was designed to counter fighters and medium bombers. Unlike the PL-1, the PL-2 missile used passive infrared homing, which allowed the attacking aircraft to retreat after missile launch. The Commission of Certification for Special Weapons of the State Council approved the PL-2 missile for batch production in 1967. Production of the PL-2 missile increased into the 1970’s after the construction of two missile factories in the 1970s.
The first model of the PL-2 missile displayed flaws ws in its counter-interference abilities (i.e. its ability to discern the heat of an jet engine to the sun), its propensity for the optical fuse to explode early, and short range. A second, improved version of the PL-2, designated as the PL-2B, was approved for production in 1978. Versus its predecessor, the PL-2B had an improved homing head and fuse. Its counter-interference capabilities were improved, velocity increased, and the optical fuse became more sensitive. In addition, the velocity and electrical circuitry of the missile was also improved. In the end, the PL-2B had 60% and 95% commonality with the PL-2 in terms of parts and components respectively. Testing was conducted in 1980, in which the missile suffered problems of early bursting. The problem was solved by August 1980, and in October 1981, the PL-2B missile was certified for the military.
The PL-3 air-to-air missile was the first independently developed air-to-air missile. The PL-3’s design emphasized high-speed and high-altitude performance. The missile was superior to the PL-2, due it its increased range, accuracy, and lethality. The PL-3 also characteristically was different: it had an enlarged lifting service, more balanced angle of attack, and a new warhead. Like the PL-1 and PL-2, the PL-3 was designed primarily to counter fighters and medium bombers. Research for the PL-3 missile began in 1965 after the project was issued by the Third Ministry of Machine Building. Test production of the missile began in 1968. The PL-3 missile initially suffered problems from the effect aerodynamic heat had on the engine case’s strength and the premature bursting of the fuse. Such a problem was solved when the circuitry of the missile was improved and after a device was installed that automatically controlled the fuse of the missile. Testing of the PL-3 missile went as far into 1979, when J-8 aircraft test fired the missiles with success. By 1980, the PL-3’s design was approved by the Conventional Military Products Certification Commission.
The PL-5B missile was a second generation missile based on the PL-2. It characteristically was smaller in diameter and was light weight, just like the PL-2. The PL-5B, however, was more technologically advanced in comparison to the PL-2. Developed by Institute No. 605 beginning in 1966 with the construction of two prototype demonstrators. Additional test missiles were built in 1967 up to 1971. Unfortunately, the Cultural Revolution hampered its development. Research resumed in 1982, in which the design of the missile was finally tested. The PL-5B initially suffered problems of the fuse prematurely bursting, however such problems were solved. By 1986, the design of the PL-5B missile was certified.
The PL-5E [Pili = Thunderbolt, or Pen Lung = Air Dragon] air-to-air missile has a maximum mobility overload of 40g, exceeding the 35g of the AIM-9L of the United States. Mobility overload a unit for measuring the mobility of aircraft. The larger the value the better the aircraft can adapt to violent mid-air mobility. An air-to-air missile with a great overload means that the attacked side is less likely to escape the attack). The speed of the missile is Mach 2.5 (2.5 times sound speed) and its maximum range is 14,000 meters.
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