Country of origin
Country of origin
231 kg (?)
Range of fire
70 km (?)
Sparrow is a medium-range air-to-air missile, intended to be used
against hostile aircraft at Beyond Visual Range (BVR) distances. It
features sweeping improvements over the
previous models, and was developed based on combat experience
with those missiles in the Vietnam War. Not as much an improved
AIM-7E as an otherwise completely unrelated weapon that happened to
look exactly like it, the AIM-7F's warhead, propulsion system,
guidance system, and even its internal layout were entirely
different from the previous model. The AIM-7F was originally to be
named "Sparrow III", but its title was contracted to just "Sparrow".
was also license-built in Japan by Mitsubishi, for the JASDF's F-4EJ
Phantom II and F-15J Eagle.
Sparrow missile had been used extensively during the Vietnam
War, with literally hundreds launched, resulting in 55 confirmed
kills, more than any other air-to-air weapon used in that war.
However, while the Probability of Kill (pK) ratio of the Sparrow had
been in the order of 80-90% during R&D and 50-60% during operational
testing, its overall result in actual combat was closer to 10%. Not
only did the Sparrow's accuracy and homing intelligence prove
wanting, but so too did its reliability and durability.
II pilots began to desperately salvo all four of their Sparrows at
single targets, hoping that at least one would achieve a kill (often
without success), and one period in the late 1960s saw 50 Sparrows
launched in succession, without scoring a single hit (let alone a
kill). The overall pK ratio of the Sparrow in some instances
plummeted to as little as 5%. Needless to say, if the Sparrow
program was to be salvaged, radical changes in the design needed to
be implemented quickly. NAVMISCEN and Raytheon had been working on a
solution since at least 1968, though a better-performing Sparrow
wouldn't become available for nearly a decade.
of the AIM-7F formally began in January 1972, while the Vietnam War
was still underway. Work proceeded relatively quickly, with
pre-production deliveries beginning in 1973. However, the AIM-7F's
development wasn't completed soon enough to participate in the
Vietnam War, nor even the Yom Kippur War. Production was initiated
in 1975, and the AIM-7F Sparrow was declared operational in 1976.
The AIM-7G's development was a different matter, which will be
clarified further below.
appearance and composition of the AIM-7F are almost
indistinguishable from that of the AIM-7E; see the
AIM-7A~E article for further details. However, so many changes
were made to the internal layout and functionality of the AIM-7F
that it was almost an original weapon.
new guidance system was installed into the AIM-7F, designated the
AN/DSQ-35 GCS (Guidance and Control System), which was designed to
make it compatible with pulse doppler radar systems (such as those
used on the
F-14A Tomcat and
Eagle). The performance of all of the electronics in the AIM-7F
were improved as well, by replacing all of the previous circuit
boards with solid-state electronics --- a first for a Sparrow
missile. These modifications also increased the reliability of the
development of the AN/DSQ-35 resulted in the AN/DSQ-35A through H
GCS', with ever-increasing guidance performance. Just as important
is that these electronics had significantly reduced weight and
volume, allowing for a larger warhead to be fitted to some versions
of the AIM-7F (see below for details).
Mk.38 rocket motor was replaced with a new dual-thrust motor; the
motor used in most AIM-7Fs was a Hercules Mk.58, but some examples
were produced with the equivalent Aerojet Mk.65. The addition of a
dual-thrust rocket motor not only greatly increased the range of the
AIM-9F over its predecessors, but also its velocity, thanks in part
to a sustainer thrust capability. The new motor produced 3 497 kg of
thrust, compared to 2 700 kg with the AIM-7E's motors.
propulsion system created a dramatic improvement in flight
performance for the AIM-7F. While it didn't gain any speed over the
AIM-7E, the sustainer phase of the Mk.58 allowed the AIM-7F to
retain thrust for a much longer period of time, and by extension,
its full speed. The result was not only a missile that reached the
same range as an AIM-7E much sooner, but also boasted a more than
doubled range (70 km versus 30 km).
production models of the AIM-7F were armed with the same Mk.38
continuous rod warhead as the AIM-7C and E. Though in later AIM-7F
variants, the enlarged WAU-10B warhead section allowed for a larger
and more powerful Mk.71 continuous rod warhead to be fitted instead.
This increased the already formidable firepower of the Sparrow,
improving the AIM-7F's chances of successfully destroying its
target. Another notable change is that the AIM-7F's warhead is
mounted further forward than in previous missiles, and is located in
front of the guidance set.
any combat launch of an AIM-7F took place, its first real test was
the Aerial Intercept Missile Evaluation (AIMVAL) and Ace Combat
Evaluation (ACEVAL) exercise in 1974. No live rounds were used in
this exercise, but rather captive air training missiles. AIMVAL/ACEVAL
pitted a "Blue Force" (F-14A Tomcats and/or F-15A Eagles ---
depending on the scenario tested --- armed with
AIM-95 Agile and
AIM-7F Sparrows) against a "Red Force" (F-5E
Tiger IIs armed with AIM-9J Sidewinders), in an attempt to
evaluate the performance of the F-14 and F-15 and their new missiles
against aircraft deemed comparable to most Eastern Bloc fighters
(i.e., the F-5E). However, the results weren't what the US Air Force
(USAF) or US Navy had hoped for.
of AIMVAL/ACEVAL, the USAF's experts and senior officers publicly
predicted the F-15 would achieve a 78:1 exchange ratio using the
AIM-7F Sparrow alone (it is worth noting that this was the same
faction of the USAF that had concocted the disastrous TAC Avenger
simulation, which is recounted in the AIM-82 article). Though
despite the senior leadership's enthusiasm for the Sparrow, the
referees decided that no BVR attacks would be carried-out by the
Blue Force. There were three reasons for this.
Rules of Engagement (ROE) in the Vietnam War forbade BVR combat,
because large numbers of US and allied aircraft in the air at any
given time and place meant there was no telling whether an unseen
aircraft the missile was locking-onto was friend or foe --- one of
the few permitted attempts at a BVR shot resulted in an F-4 firing
at what turned out to be another F-4; disaster was averted when the
attacker got close enough to see the target's smoky exhaust (the F-4
was infamous for it, and the VPAF's MiGs were far less smoky), and
broke the lock. It stood to reason that the same ROE was inevitable
in all future air conflicts for the same reasons. Second, the Red
Force pilots insisted that radar warning receivers be fitted to
their aircraft if BVR was allowed, as all operational Warsaw Pact
combat aircraft already had them by the 1970s. The Blue Force pilots
concurred. The Department of Defence ultimately disallowed BVR
combat, as the prospect of the exercise ending with nearly all BVR
shots being foiled by evasive maneuvers was a potential
embarrassment (as the Pentagon had invested substantial funding and
prestige into BVR combat, and feared it would be discredited).
Third, as previously noted in the
AIM-7A~E article, the US military had already admitted roughly
once every decade since the 1960s that friend or foe
identification technology never worked. Attacking a target at BVR
distances requires positive identification, and as friend-or-foe
identification was never much more than a "black box" technology
(further exposure of which risked further loss of face and funding
for the Pentagon), the generals and admirals weren't thrilled at the
prospect of *this* issue being exposed either.
results of AIMVAL/ACEVAL were a devastating blow to the AIM-7F's
reputation. The exchange ratios achieved by Blue Force were never
high enough to constitute an advantage (even when they won, due to
the relative expendability and cost-effectiveness of the F-5E), and
the pK Ratio of the AIM-7F never approached that of the AIM-9J.
Nearly all encounters in which the maximum allowed number of
aircraft were used (4 versus 4) resulted in a draw, and encounters
in which the Red Force had and numerical superiority almost always
saw them dominate the Blue Force.
combat encounter in which AIM-7Fs were used occurred on June 27th
1979 over Lebanon, and it was also the first combat action of the
F-15 Eagle --- though for the AIM-7F, the results were
disappointing. As recounted in "Israeli F-15 Eagle Units in Combat",
IDF pilots Moshe Melnik and Benny Zinker were intercepted by Syrian
over Lebanon, and opened fire with two AIM-7Fs... which both missed
their targets. The two IDF F-15s closed to within visual range and
fired Python 3 missiles (infrared-homing within visual range
missiles), which each shot-down the opposing aircraft on the first
try. Once again, the AIM-7F had failed to lived-up to the promises
it was based on.
The IDF had
better luck in later skirmishes with the AIM-7F, and out of some 13
aircraft shot-down over or near Lebanon, at least one was
brought-down with a Sparrow; a
MiG-25MP on February 13th 1981, which was the first confirmed
kill of a MiG-25. The F-15 pilots were once again Melnik and Zinker.
A second MiG-25 was shot-down using an AIM-7F on the following
February 23rd, this time by F-15 pilot Shaul Simon. However, the
second MiG-25 kill was within visual range, and the AIM-7F missed
much more often that it hit throughout these exchanges.
major use of the AIM-7F in combat once again involved the IDF. This
time during the 1982 Lebanon War, which included the Battle of the
Bekaa Valley, the largest air battle in any conflict outside the
World Wars. F-15s and F-16s achieved a combined 92 kills against
aircraft and helicopters, without any losses in this war.
this was an impressive feat, the AIM-7F still failed to deliver its
promised performance. 44 kills of these 94 kills were achieved by
IDF F-16As, whose only weapons for air-to-air combat at this time
were short-range missiles (the AIM-9L Sidewinder and Python 3) and
guns, and nearly all of the F-15's kills in this war were achieved
with short-range missiles or gunfire. Moreover, all of the F-15's
AIM-7F kills were attained at within visual ranges. The first kill
in the 1982 Lebanon War, achieved by IDF pilot Offer Lapidot on June
8th, was via another Python 3 --- following an AIM-7F launch that
missed the same target. There were also a few kills achieved by
which like the F-16A did not have a BVR capability at that time. The
famed Double Tail Squadron (an F-15 formation) achieved 33 kills
during this war, including 3 with gunfire, but only 10 were
attributed to the AIM-7F.
Lebanon War also appears to be the last confirmed use of the AIM-7F
in battle. All US Sparrow kills following the Vietnam War were
attained using the AIM-7M, while Iran's latest Sparrow model was the
AIM-7E, and Saudi Arabia's F-15s achieved no Sparrow kills during
Operation Desert Storm.
Forecast International's report on the AIM-7 Sparrow, the AIM-7F has
been used by Columbia, Germany, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia, Spain, and USA. The same source also states that
Columbia also uses the AIM-7F as a SAM, as does Venezuela (though
the latter never used in an air-to-air role), but doesn't clarify
which weapon systems these users employ to launch it. However, the
status of the AIM-7F in the inventories is unclear, particularly as
it has mostly been superseded by the AIM-7M and AIM-7P.
ended in 1981, by which time over 15 000 AIM-7Fs were produced.
There are claims that 19 000 were produced. Some sources also state
that earlier Sparrows were rebuilt as AIM-7Fs, but it is unclear how
that affects the total production run.
development cost of $170 Million in 1986 dollars, the AIM-7F has a
unit cost $224 010 in 1986 dollars. Factoring-in inflation, this is
a unit cost of $526 907 in 2020 US dollars.
is no longer available for production, and due to its outdated
electronics and the advancing age of even the newest examples.
However, it isn't exactly the most attractive BVR missile on the
market, and many have either been rebuilt as later Sparrow variants
or expended in training. Further rebuilds are unlikely as well, due
to the abandonment of R&D on air-to-air versions of the Sparrow
family in favor of naval SAM systems.
As such, if
any operational AIM-7Fs still remain as of mid-2020, they aren't
likely to be usable for very far into the future.
was broadly similar to the AIM-7F, but was designed especially for
use by the
F-111D Aardvark. It featured a new seeker head which could lock
onto targets illuminated by the F-111D's APQ-130 radar system. This
would theoretically allow a formation of F-111D to clear the skies
of hostile aircraft in their path, without relying on short-ranged
weapons like the M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm cannon or
AIM-9 Sidewinder (an important consideration in an aircraft
unsuitable for dogfighting).
the cost, complexity, and unreliability of the F-111D were already
spiraling out of control before the first airframe was even
completed, its Sparrow capability was deleted as part of an effort
to reduce these problems. The AIM-7D was never adapted for use by
any other aircraft, and it never achieved mass production or
is a training version of the AIM-7F. This model has a live rocket
motor, allowing it to be launched from an aircraft, though it is
unclear from literature on the Sparrow whether the ATM-7F has a
seeker head or live warhead.
Another training variant of the AIM-7F, this model does not have a
rocket motor, and has a ballast in place of its warhead, and is used
as a captive air training missile (as denoted by the "C" prefix in
its designation). It is carried by fighters during training to allow
pilots to practice locking-onto other aircraft, but cannot be
launched, and will not explode, though it may be jettisoned in an
This is an inert dummy version of the AIM-7F. It is used to train
ground crews for munitions handling, and it has ballasts in place of
a seeker, warhead, or motor.
another training version of the AIM-7F, the CAEM-7F is a modified
version of the CATM-7F, with a variety of electronic monitoring and
recording equipment built into it.
Sparrow: This was a modified AIM-7F, with a new seeker head,
intended especially for use in the F-111D Aardvark. A few prototype
YAIM-7G missiles were built, but the AIM-7G not enter production or
service. The Ardvark's planned Sparrow capability was deleted as
part of an effort to reduce development problems of this aircraft.
Sparrow: Naval SAM version of the AIM-7F. It was short-lived in
production, as the more capable RIM-7M became available only a few
Sparrow: Though its designation sequentially follows the AIM-7F, the
RIM-7H actually preceded the former in operational service. It is
not derived from the AIM-7F however, but rather is an evolution of
the preceding RIM-7E. This missile was also the primary munition for
use in the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System (NSSMS) weapon system.
This naval SAM system was proposed in 1974, and it believed to be an
evolution of the RIM-7H Sea Sparrow.
under license in Italy, the Alenia Aspide was an even further
development of the AIM-7F.
The UK's counterpart of the Aspide, the Skyflash is yet another
foreign-built licensed development of the AIM-7F.
designations AIM-7H, AIM-7I, AIM-7K and AIM-7L were not used with
any operational missile. They appear to have been skipped. The
AIM-7H probably would have been an air-launched version of the
RIM-7H, while the US military usually avoids using an "I" letter at
the end of a numerical designation.
Code-named AA-7 or Apex by the West, this Soviet missile had more in
common with the performance of earlier Sparrows, but it was
introduced into service shortly before the AIM-7F. It has much in
common with the Sparrow, such as it's medium size, weight, and
range, large warhead, semi-active radar homing guidance, and a
tendency to miss far more targets than it hits. There was also an
infrared homing version, the R-23T.
Code-named AA-10 or Alamo by the West, the R-27 was developed as a
rapid follow-up to the R-23, once its lackluster performance became
known. Usually seen on the
Su-27 that it was mainly designed for, the R-27 is broadly
comparable to the AIM-7F (including the use of semi-active radar
homing guidance), though it has a very different appearance due to
its different nose and fin assembly. There is also an infrared
homing version, the R-40T. Unfortunately for a missile that had the
benefit of hindsight (of the AIM-7F) to build from, it performed no
better, achieving a pK ratio of only 4% in the 1999
Developed for the
Mirage F-1, this French missile made by Matra is a much improved
version of the earlier R.530 missile. It employs semi-active radar
homing guidance, and an improved guidance system, electronics,
propulsion, and warhead compared to its predecessor, just like the
AIM-7F. The Super 530F has a markedly different appearance, with a
slightly longer fuselage, fences in place of the delta-shaped
forward fins, and square-shaped fins in place of the R.530's
rhombus-shaped aft fins. This missile is also faster than even the
AIM-7F, with a maximum velocity of Mach 4.6.
Despite its alphabetically earlier designation, the Super 530D is a
further development of the Super 530F. It was developed for the
Mirage 2000, and has even further-improved performance.
Incredibly, this missile is even faster than the Super 530F, with a
maximum velocity of Mach 5.
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