Munitions / Air to air missiles / Sparrow

Sparrow

General Facts

  • TYPE
    Air to air missile

  • ORIGIN
    United States

  • NICKNAMES
    AAM-N-6 (early designation for AIM-7C)
    AIM-101 (early designation for AIM-7D)

  • DESIGNED
    1951 - 1956 (Sparrow)
    1988 - 1998 (ESSM)

  • DESIGNER
    Raytheon

  • PRODUCTION
    1958 - present

  • PRODUCERS
    United States - Raytheon

    Licensed production:
    Italy - Selenia
    Japan - Mitsubishi

  • QUANTITY
    Over 62.000 AIM-7
    About 12.000 RIM-7
    3.000 RIM-162 anticipated

  • UNIT COST
    About $ 125.000 for AIM-7
    About $ 165.400 for RIM-7M
    About $ 800.000 for RIM-162

  • CHARACTERISTICS
    Good range and very fast
    Much cheaper than AMRAAM
    Target must be illuminated until impact
    Poor performance in early models

Introduction

The Sparrow is an air to air missile of US origin. It was developed by Raytheon in the early 1950's and is based on earlier projects developed since 1947. The AIM-7 Sparrow is the air-launched version for use on fighter aircraft and the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow is the surface-launched version that is used on many Western warships. Over its lifetime the Sparrow was continuously upgraded and the latest Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile is still in production. The Sparrow was also the basis for the European Skyflash and Aspide derivatives.

Layout

The Sparrow has a conventional design in being a cylinder with large cruciform wings in the middle and smaller ones at the rear. The guidance section is in the front, the warhead in the middle and the single stage solid fuel rocket engine at the rear. Over its lifetime the missile has been upgraded with better electronics, new warhead types and larger and more capable rocket engines. The Sea Sparrow missiles are roughly similar to the air launched models but feature folding main wings and some have smaller tail wings. The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile is very different since its body has a similar design as the Standard missile.

Guidance

All Sparrow models use semi-active radar homing. The passive radar on the Sparrow missile tracks the target that is illuminated by either the launch aircraft, another aircraft or a ship based radar. When target illumination ceases the missile is unable to find the target. The latest models are capable of command guidance next to the semi-active radar homing mode. A version with an additional infrared seeker was in development but scrapped due to costs.

Firepower

The Sparrow is fitted with a continuous rod warhead in most versions and a blast-fragmentation warhead in the latest models. The early model Sparrow missiles had a very poor combat record with a less than 10% kill probability during the Vietnam war. From the AIM-7F solid state electronics were used and the effectiveness improved drastically. The late model Sparrows have a maximum range of about 45 km, although under optimal conditions 70 km could be achieved. The naval versions have a much reduced range of about 16 km since they lack the launch velocity that an aircraft has and use more fuel to gain altitude.

Platforms

The Sparrow can be launched from most US fighter aircraft developed during the Cold War, including the F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F/A-18 Hornet. Additionally it can be used on various Western aircraft such as the F-104S Starfighter, Viggen, Tornado F3 and Japanese F-2. The Sea Sparrow is launched from a wide variety of Western warships and is also used on towed launchers used by the Skyguard SAM system.

Users

The AIM-7 Sparrow was the primary BVR missile in US service from the 1960's to the 1990's and was widely exported to US allies in the same timeframe. The AIM-7 has been completely replaced by the AIM-120 AMRAAM in US service but is still used in many other nations. The RIM-7 Sea Sparrow was the primary short range missile system in NATO service. The use of the Sea Sparrow reduced, but the latest RIM-162 ESSM is used by more and more navies.

Variants

AIM-7C/D/E/F Sparrow

The AIM-7C entered service in 1958 as the AAM-N-6. It was the first fully operational Sparrow missile but due to its limited range only 2.000 were produced. The AIM-7D produced from 1959 onwards was known as AIM-101 and AAM-N-6a. The AIM-7D had an improved engine and guidance system and better anti-jamming capabilities. The AIM-7E is a much improved model that entered service in 1963. The AIM-7E uses the MK 38 or MK 52 engine resulting in a much higher speed and range than the earlier models. At first the AIM-7E was briefly known as the AAM-N-6b. The AIM-7F uses the much improved MK 58 dual thrust rocket, resulting in a much longer range. The AIM-7F also uses an improved MK 71 continuous rod warhead and much improved guidance section.

TypeAir to air missile
Diameter203 mm body, 1.02 m wingspan, 0.81 m finspan
Length3.66 m
Weight172 kg
GuidanceSemi-active radar homing
WarheadMk 38, 30 kg continuous rod
PropulsionAerojet 1.8KS7800 solid fuel rocket motor
SpeedMach 4
Range1.5 to 11 km
Altitude-
Engagement envelope1.5 km minimum altitude
Remarks-
TypeAir to air missile
Diameter203 mm body, 1.02 m wingspan, 0.81 m finspan
Length3.66 m
Weight197 kg
GuidanceSemi-active radar homing
WarheadMk 38, 30 kg continuous rod
PropulsionRocketdyne Mk 38 solid fuel rocket motor
SpeedMach 4
Range1.5 to 30 km
Altitude-
Engagement envelope1.5 km minimum altitude
Remarks-
TypeAir to air missile
Diameter203 mm body, 1.02 m wingspan, 0.81 m finspan
Length3.66 m
Weight227 kg
GuidanceSemi-active radar homing
WarheadMk 71, 39 kg continuous rod
PropulsionHecules Mk 58 dual-thrust solid fuel rocket motor
SpeedMach 4
Range45 km
Altitude-
Engagement envelope-
Remarks-

RIM-7E/F/H Sea Sparrow

The RIM-7E Sea Sparrow is a ship-launched version of the air-launched AIM-7E Sparrow and is the first Sea Sparrow model. The RIM-7H is an improved model of the RIM-7E and is therefore less advanced than the RIM-7F with its earlier designation. The RIM-7F Sea Sparrow is a ship-launched version of the more capable air-launched AIM-7F Sparrow. The RIM-7F was soon replaced by the RIM-7M. The RIM-7E is fired from modified ASROC launchers designated Mk 25. Unlike the earlier RIM-7E the RIM-7F and H have folding fins allowing them to be fired from the smaller octuple Mk 29 launcher.

AIM-7M/P Sparrow

The AIM-7M uses the same MK 58 engine as the AIM-7F and entered production in 1982. The AIM-7M has a new monopulse seeker that gives it an look-down/shoot-down capability. The AIM-7P is an improved model that is produced since 1987. It features improved guidance, a new radar fuze and an uplink for mid-course guidance. Both M and P models were later available in a Block II version with an improved guidance section.

TypeAir to air missile
Diameter203 mm body, 1.02 m wingspan, 0.81 m finspan
Length3.66 m
Weight231 kg
GuidanceSemi-active radar homing
WarheadWDU-27/B, 40 kg HE blast-fragmentation
PropulsionHecules Mk 58 dual-thrust solid fuel rocket motor
SpeedMach 4
Range45 km
Altitude-
Engagement envelope-
Remarks-
TypeAir to air missile
Diameter203 mm body, 1.02 m wingspan, 0.81 m finspan
Length3.66 m
Weight231 kg
GuidanceSemi-active radar homing and command guidance
WarheadWDU-27/B, 40 kg HE blast-fragmentation
PropulsionHecules Mk 58 dual-thrust solid fuel rocket motor
SpeedMach 4
Range45 km
Altitude-
Engagement envelope-
Remarks-

RIM-7M/P Sea Sparrow

The RIM-7M and RIM-7P Sea Sparrow are ship-launched versions of the air-launched AIM-7M and AIM-7P Sparrow. In addition to the Mk-29 launcher they can also be fired by the Mk 41 and Mk 41 vertical launch systems. They are similar to the air launched models in all aspects except for the smaller fin span.

TypeSurface to air missile
Diameter203 mm body, 1.02 m wingspan, 0.62 m finspan
Length3.66 m
Weight231 kg
GuidanceSemi-active radar homing
WarheadWDU-27/B, 40 kg HE blast-fragmentation
PropulsionHecules Mk 58 dual-thrust solid fuel rocket motor
SpeedMach 4
Range26 km
Altitude?
Engagement envelope-
Remarks-

Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile

The RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) is based on the RIM-7P, but only the guidance section remains unaltered. It features slat fins and tail control similar to the Standard missile. This allows for a much larger and wider rocket engine within the same wingspan. Due to the changes the ESSM is very different from the Sea Sparrow and has been given its own RIM-162 designation. Several versions exist, but they show a similar performance.
RIM-162A: Launched from the Mk 41 VLS and features an AEGIS uplink which the other models lack.
RIM-162B: Launched from the Mk 41 VLS on non-AEGIS ships.
RIM-162C: Launched from the Mk 48 VLS.
RIM-162D: Launched from the Mk 29 octuple launcher.

TypeSurface to air missile
Diameter254 mm
Length3.66 m
Weight280 kg
GuidanceSemi-active radar homing
Warhead39 kg blast-fragmentation
PropulsionMk 143 Mod 0 solid fuel rocket motor
SpeedMach 4+
RangeOver 50 km
Altitude-
Engagement envelope-
Remarksup to 50G manoeuvering

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