The PL-8 is a licensed copy of the Israeli Python-3 AAM. The Python-3 was developed by Israel to be used on their F-15, F-16 and Mirage fighter aircraft.
Production of the PL-8 began in the year 1983 after the People’s Liberation Army Air Force test fired the missile. They were impressed by the missile´s performance. Israel has supplied about 1,200 Python-3 kits for Chinese production. The resulting missiles entered operational status in the year 1988. The contents which were Israeli-made were reduced so that China was able to produce the missile by the 1990s completely independent from Israel.
In comparison to its predecessors (PL-2, PL-5, PL-7) the PL-8 has some relevant enhancements. Thus it is the first Chinese missile, which has an “All-Aspect-infrared-homing” attack capability; this capability allows it to attack enemies from all directions. Previous missiles could only get a lock on when being placed directly behind the enemy aircraft to lock on to the hot engine exhaust plumes. The passive sensors of the missile are able to get a lock even during extreme turnings. Later variants of the Pl-8 should be also able to cooperate with a Helmet Mounted Display, to help the pilot attacking aircraft which are more manoeuvrable than his own fighter.