The Sparrow was used as the basis for a surface-to-air missile, the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow, which is used by a number of navies for air defense of their ships. Fired at low altitude and flying directly at its target though the lower atmosphere, the range of the missile in this role is greatly reduced. With the retirement of the Sparrow in the air-to-air role, a new version of the Sea Sparrow was produced to address this concern, producing the much larger and more capable RIM-162 ESSM.
The Sparrow has four major sections: guidance section, warhead, control, and rocket motor (currently the Hercules MK-58 solid-propellant rocket motor). It has a cylindrical body with four wings at mid-body and four tail fins. Although the 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 warhead is of the continuous-rod type.
As with other semi-active radar guided missiles, the missile does not generate radar signals, but instead homes in on reflected continuous-wave signals from the launch platform's radar. The receiver also senses the guidance radar to enable comparisons that enhance the missile's resistance to passive jamming.
The kill probability (Pk) is determined by several factors, including aspect (head-on interception, side-on or tail-chase), altitude, the speed of the missile and the target, and how hard the target can turn. Typically, if the missile has sufficient energy during the terminal phase, which comes from being launched at close range to the target from an aircraft with an altitude and speed advantage, it will have a good chance of success. This chance drops as the missile is fired at longer ranges as it runs out of overtake speed at long ranges, and if the target can force the missile to turn it might bleed off enough speed that it can no longer chase the target. Operationally, the missile, which was designed for beyond visual range combat, has a Pk of 61.1% (18 missiles for 11 kills). The targets included six MiG-29s, a MiG-25, a MiG-23, a Su-22, a Galeb and a US Army Blackhawk that was targeted by mistake.
Maverick A is the basic model and uses an electro-optical television guidance system. No longer in U.S. service.
Maverick B is similar to the A model, although the B model added optical zooming to lock onto small or distant targets.
Maverick C was to be a laser-guided variant for the United States Marine Corps (USMC). It was canceled before production, however its requirement was later met by the Maverick E.
Maverick D replaced the electro-optical guidance with an imaging infrared system which doubled the practical firing distance and allowed for its use at night and during bad weather. A reduced smoke rocket engine was also introduced in this model. It achieved its initial operation capability in 1983.
Maverick E uses a laser designator guidance system optimized for fortified installations and heavier penetrating blast-fragmentation warhead (140 kg (300 lb) vs. 57 kg (125 lb) in older models). It achieved IOC in 1985 and was used mainly by USMC aviation.
Maverick F, designed specially for United States Navy, it uses a modified Maverick D infrared guidance system optimized for tracking ships fitted onto a Maverick-E body and warhead.
Maverick G model essentially has the same guidance system as the D with some software modification that enables the pilot to track larger targets. The G model's major difference is its heavier penetrator warhead taken from the Maverick E, compared to the D model's shaped-charge warhead. It completed tests in 1988.
Maverick H model is an AGM-65B/D missile upgraded with a new charge-coupled device (CCD) seeker better suited for the desert environment.
Maverick J model is a Navy AGM-65F missile upgraded with the new CCD seeker. However, this conversion is not confirmed.
Maverick K model is an AGM-65G upgraded with the CCD seeker; at least 1,200, but possibly up to 2,500 AGM-65G rounds are planned for conversion to AGM-65K standard.
Maverick E2/L model incorporates a laser-guided seeker that allows for designation by the launch aircraft, another aircraft, or a ground source and can engage small, fast moving, and maneuvering targets on land and at sea.