The versatile Sparrow has all-weather, all-altitude operational capability and can attack high-performance aircraft and missiles from any direction. It is a widely deployed missile used by U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.
The missile has four major sections: guidance section, warhead, control and rocket motor. It has a cylindrical body with four wings at mid-body and four tail fins. Although external dimensions of the Sparrow remained relatively unchanged from model to model, the internal components of newer missiles represent major improvements with vastly increased capabilities.
The AIM-7F joined the military's inventory in 1976 as the primary medium-range, air-to-air missile for the USAF F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, the US Navy's F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet, and the USMC's F/A-18 and F-4 Phantom II.
The AIM-7M, the only current operational version, entered service in 1982. It has improved reliability and performance over earlier models at low altitudes and in electronic countermeasures environments. It also has a significantly more lethal warhead. The latest software version of the AIM-7M is the H-Build that has been produced since 1987 and incorporates additional improvements in guidance.
In the Persian Gulf War, the radar-guided AIM-7 Sparrow proved to be a potent air-to-air weapon used by USAF fighter pilots. Twenty-two Iraqi fixed-wing aircraft and three Iraqi helicopters were downed by radar-guided AIM-7 Sparrow missiles.