INTERCEPT PROCEDURES TEXTBOOK
IP-15: AIM-7 SPARROW, AIM-54 PHOENIX, AND AIM-120 AMRAAM
The AIM-7 Sparrow is a medium range, all-aspect, all-weather, semi-active radar guided
missile. In addition to its air intercept role, Sparrow variants have been utilized as air-to-surface
and surface-to-air weapons since the missile's inception in 1946. Unlike many of its
predecessors, the current Sparrow (AIM-7M) is a reliable and highly lethal weapon.
The Sparrow project began in 1946, with the first test firing of a missile in 1952. The
missiles became operational in 1956 aboard F3H Demons and F7U Cutlasses. The Sparrow I
was a beam-rider, requiring the missile to remain centered in the launch aircraft's radar beam
from launch until impact, severely limiting range and capability.
The Sparrow became a semi-active radar homing weapon with the third version of the
missile, requiring the aircraft to maintain a radar lock on the target. This allowed the missile to
maneuver outside the radar beam and fly a proportional navigation profile, thereby improving
performance and capability.
The height of the Cold War demanded a missile that could bring down a high-altitude, non-
maneuvering bomber type aircraft. This type of target was rarely encountered during the
Vietnam War, leading to an unearned poor reputation for performance and reliability during this
Improvements since that time have included greater maneuverability, improved fusing, a
shorter minimum range, and solid-state electronics. The current model in use, the AIM-7M, also
includes a monopulse seeker head for anti-jamming capability.
The AIM-7 is a 12 foot long, 500 pound missile. Although it is not a launch and leave
missile like the Sidewinder, the high reliability and performance level of the Sparrow make it a
viable weapon of choice in the ACM arena. Like the Sidewinder, the Sparrow can be broken
down into four major sections: guidance, fuse, warhead, and rocket motor.