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Terminal Guidance



Sparrow Missile

Last updated: 8 August 2003

Sea Sparrow missile being launched Services: Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force

Description: A highly maneuverable air-to-air missile with surface-to-air capability.

Features: The Navy's RIM-7M Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile and the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force's AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile are radar-guided missiles with high explosive warheads. They have a cylindrical body with four wings at mid-body and four tail fins. The Navy uses the Sea Sparrow version aboard ships as a surface-to-air anti-missile defense.

The versatile Sparrow has all-weather, all-altitude operational capability and can attack high-performance aircraft and missiles from any direction. It is widely deployed by U.S., NATO and other FMS forces. The Sea Sparrow is found aboard many U.S., NATO, and other FMS surface warships.

Background: Originally developed as an air-to-air missile by Sperry and the U.S. Navy, Sparrow's later versions were developed and produced by Raytheon Company, General Dynamics, and Hughes Missile Systems. Subsequent versions were dubbed the "dog-fight modification" because its increased maneuverability at short range made it better suited for close-in visual engagements. The surface-to-air capability was then added to provide point defense capability for surface combatants. It is utilized in the Trainable Launch configuration by the Navy and in both the Trainable Launch and Vertical Launch configurations by NATO and other FMS customers.

The first production Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), an international cooperative upgrade of the RIM-7 NATO Sea Sparrow missile, was delivered in late 2002 to the U.S. Navy by Raytheon. The new missile provides the primary air defense for capital ships of the 10 participating NATO navies. The program is managed by the NATO Sea Sparrow Consortium, a 32-year-old organization described as NATO’s largest and most successful cooperative weapons project.

ESSM has the speed, agility and accuracy to engage threats at maximum range and under the most challenging conditions.
The final phase of the missile’s flight test program is scheduled for early spring 2003, when performance with the Aegis Fire Control System of the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers will be verified.

General Characteristics

Primary Function: Air-to-air and surface-to-air radar-guided missile
Contractors: Raytheon Co., General Dynamics, and Hughes Missile Systems
Power Plant: Alliant TechSystems (Hercules) MK-58 solid-propellant rocket motor
Thrust: Classified
Speed: Classified
Range: Classified
Length: 12 feet (3.64 meters)
Diameter: 8 inches (20.3 cm)
Wingspan: 3 feet 4 inches (one meter)
Warhead: Annular blast fragmentation warhead, 90 pounds (40.5 kg)
Launch Weight: Approximately 500 pounds (225 kg)
Guidance System: Raytheon semi-active on continuous wave or pulsed Doppler radar energy
Date Deployed: 1976
Unit Cost: $165,400
Inventory: Classified
Aircraft Platforms:
Navy: F-14 and F/A-18;
Air Force: F-4, F-15, and F-16;
Marine Corps: F-4 and F/A-18
Surface Platforms:
CVs, LHAs, DD-963s, AOEs


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