The Sparrow family has a long history within NATO armies, beginning as a post-war American development alongside the Sidewinder. As of 2014, it remains the primary BVRAAM of NATO air forces, in various guises. The simplicity and ease of construction has made the AIM-7 family the most mass produced, widely used air-to-air missile in the Free World, comparable to the Soviet R-27 used by the USSR and Warsaw Pact states. The most modern variant: the Sparrow V or AIM-7V is used by the United States of America, Kingdom of Sweden, Kingdom of Norway, Britain, West Germany, Republic of Poland, Republic of Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Principality of Galla, Republic of Spain, Portugal, and the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Variants of the Sparrow have been used or developed into indigenous platforms by non-NATO countries such as the South African Union, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Kampuchea, North Borneo, Burma, Malaysia, and Qatar, among others. The most common NATO variant is the British Aerospace Skyflash, which started out as a development of the AIM-7E-2 Sparrow developed during the Vietnam War. Changes included a new European rocket motor, a GEC-Marconi radar seeker, and a larger warhead. Further developments in the 1980s resulted in the Skyflash Mark 2, an improved variant incorporating an active radar seeker and 40 lbs continuous rod warhead (CRW). The Skyflash Mark 2 was adopted by the Principality of Galla as the RBS 81 and by the Kingdom of Sweden as the RB 71B.
The most recent Skyflash variant: Mark 4 is currently used by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, Swedish Royal Air Force, Royal Gallan Navy, the Luftwaffe, the French Armee de l'Air and Aeronavale, and the Dutch Royal Air Force. It was developed in the early 1990s alongside the European Fighter Aircraft (later, Typhoon). It combines the Thomson-CSF and Marconi electronics of the Mark 2 with a new rocket motor and ramjet sustainer engine, providing an increase in range approximately twice that of conventional missiles, in the same class as the US Navy AIM-54 Phoenix.
The American AMRAAM program began in the 1980s to find a successor to the Sparrow for the Advanced Tactical Fighter (later, F-22), resulting in the AIM-7V Sparrow V. It features a triangular, bank-to-turn lifting body airframe and flush, variable inlets providing greater maneuverability over other ramjet-sustained BVRAAMs like the Skyflash Mark 4. Very little, besides the dimensions, remain common with the AIM-7. It is currently the most advanced air-to-air missile fielded today.
AIM-7R was developed in the 1990s as an interim upgrade until fielding of the AMRAAM missile, which would become AIM-7V. It incorporates the same body and electronics as AIM-7P Block II, but adds a Hughes infrared seeker assembly and Texas Instruments active radar seeker in the nose, making it a dual mode system capable of engaging all targets. The dual mode seeker was considered for AIM-7V, but the high cost of the -R led to it being rescinded from the AMRAAM requirement in 1995. Only 150 missiles of AIM-7R were manufactured, and all have been removed from service with the introduction of the Sparrow V.
Other variants of the AIM-7 have included the Brazo*/ERASER (Electromagnetic RAdiation Source EliminatoR), an air-to-air or air-to-ground anti-radiation missile (ARM). Brazo, designed to kill airborne radar emitters, suffered from an extremely short range of only 30 miles. It was never adopted by the US Navy but saw service with smaller European air forces. ERASER, an air-to-ground variant, was designed along similar lines to the British ALARM but featured two rocket motors as opposed to a restartable one. Designed to provide a more persistent deterrent against SAMs, it is lofted to a high altitude and begins searching for emitters, which when located are engaged by the WDU-27 blast-fragmentation warhead. If the radar shuts down, the missile deploys a parachute to begin loitering and waiting for a new target, which is then engaged by the second engine firing.
ERASER A-G was adopted by the US Navy and US Air Force in 1979 as the AGM-85. It was superseded in service by the AGM-88 beginning in 1985. ERASER saw use in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Noble Anvil, where it destroyed numerous Soviet-built Iraqi and Serbian radar systems.
ERASER A-A never received a numerical designation, but served as an interim weapon until the full deployment of the F-X and AIM-97 "Seekbat" weapon system. It was used judiciously during Desert Storm against Iraqi MiG-25s, where it accounted for nine aerial victories with ten confirmed launches. ERASER validated the concept of an air-to-air anti-radiation missile, although Seekbat integrated a terminal infrared seeker and midcourse update system in addition to the anti-radiation function. In Desert Storm, the Seekbat missile and USAF F-15A MIGCAPs accounted for about 76 air-to-air kills, or approximately 45% of Iraqi aircraft shot down during the war.
*Spanish: "Arm". A lingual pun based on the English acronym for "anti-radiation missile".