Developed from the AIM-7E-2 Sparrow, the Skyflash is a remarkably similar missile featuring upgrades primarily to its tracking capabilities. The Skyflash is a versatile semi-active radar-homing missile able to engage and track targets at all altitudes, even out to longer ranges and against ground clutter, while bringing excellent manoeuvrability and kill capability.
Vehicles equipped with this weapon
|Missile guidance time
|11.52 kg TNTeq
The Skyflash is a British development on the AIM-7E-2 Sparrow, featuring much of the same characteristics — the main difference between the two being the Skyflash's monopulse seeker head, which toted much better immunity against interference and improved tracking as compared to the AIM-7E-2's conical scan seeker head.
The Skyflash features a potent explosive warhead, formed of 9 kg of PBXN-4 with a TNT equivalent of 11.52 kg that allows the missile to destroy almost all aircraft in a single strike, with little chance of the target surviving with critical damage.
An advanced active radar fuse improves the missile's kill capability further by reducing the chance of near-misses or poorly timed detonations.
Comparison with analogues
The Skyflash is a British development on the AIM-7E-2 Sparrow, and thus has noticeably similar statistics. Featuring an improved inverse monopulse seeker, the Skyflash is slightly more capable of defeating ground clutter and leading its target compared to the AIM-7E-2, and can lock onto targets 12 kilometres further out — up to a range of 37 kilometres.
Similar to the AIM-7E-2 Sparrow, the Skyflash begins manoeuvring to lead its target almost immediately off the rail, allowing it to engage enemies at far closer ranges than the AIM-7E Sparrow, which only begins to manoeuvre a couple of seconds after launch.
Like other AIM-7E Sparrow variants, the Skyflash can engage targets at moderately large ranges but cannot quite match the considerable range of the AIM-7F Sparrow, whose increased lock range and sustainer allow it to potentially reach targets dozens of kilometres away, though both missiles reach comparable speeds when fired at close aircraft.
As with most other Western semi-active radar-homing missiles of its era, the Skyflash is highly competitive against its Eastern competitors. Though not quite toting the range of higher performance missiles such as the R-24R and R-27ER, the Skyflash's excellent avionics and the superior radar system of the British Phantoms keep its relative lethality high at close to medium ranges.
Usage in battles
The Skyflash offers the Phantom FG.1 and FGR.2 a more versatile missile than the AIM-7E Sparrow. With the same 25G overload, but with the ability to begin manoeuvring immediately on launch, the Skyflash is excellent at engaging targets flying defensively even at closer ranges and lower altitudes.
The Skyflash's upgraded seeker head also improves the missile's ability to engage targets obfuscated by ground clutter or flying at higher speeds and at oblique angles, targets the standard AIM-7E and AIM-7E-2 struggle to track. Coupled with the advanced AN/APG-59 pulse-doppler radar used on British Phantoms, the Skyflash is among the first semi-active radar-homing missiles able to be used in low-altitude dogfights without sacrificing any of the ranged effectiveness of earlier AIM-7 Sparrows.
Pros and cons
- All-weather and all-aspect capability
- Begins manoeuvring to track targets immediately after launch
- Good manoeuvrability allows engagement of agile targets at ranges as close as 2 to 4 km
- High top speed of mach 4
- Seeker can sometimes fail to acquire and/or track a target, even when chaff is not employed
- Relies on a radar lock from its parent aircraft for the entire duration of the missile's flight
- Missiles like the AIM-7F, AIM-7M, R-27R, and R-27ER have twice its range and can be encountered at the same BR
The development of the Skyflash began in January 1972, when a call was put out for a medium range radar-guided anti-air missile in the form of AST.1219. The request called for a missile with all-weather, all-aspect capability able to engage targets at low altitudes. The missile was intended for use on the aircraft in development for AST.395, which would later become the Panavia Tornado ADV.
Due to the large timeframe between the development of the Skyflash and the completion of AST.395, it was accepted that the missile would be employed on the Phantom FG.1 and FGR.2 where they were used for air defence. With the demand that the missile be mountable on existing Phantom hardpoints, engineers quickly turned to the existing AIM-7E-2 Sparrow.
The majority of the missile's development was undertaken by Hawker Siddeley Dynamics alongside Marconi GEC who, taking on experience earned in the development of the English Electric Lightning's AIRPASS radar, developed an inverse monopulse radar seeker for the Skyflash.
By 1977, the Skyflash was nearing completion with a whole host of improvements over the AIM-7E-2 from which it was developed, including:
- An anglicised Aerojet Mk.52 motor (the Bristol Aerojet Hoopoe), allowing launches at higher G-forces and improving performance against high altitude targets
- A new active radar fuse, the Thorn MEI, improving the missile's kill potential
- Marconi's inverse monopulse radar seeker head, increasing the missile's resistance against ECM, its ability to defeat ground clutter, and its capability of tracking targets with high closure rates, as well as general tracking improvements
The Skyflash was first fit to a British Phantom in 1978 and tested by a Phantom FGR.2 against a Gloster Meteor test target, earning the missile's first official 'kill'. Though it never saw active combat, the Skyflash was nonetheless considered a success and was exported for Swedish use on SAAB's JA 37 Viggen as the RB71.
The Skyflash (as intended) would later be adapted for use on the Tornado ADV by BAe Dynamics, a merger of which the original Hawker Siddeley Dynamics joined, as the Improved Skyflash (more often known as SuperTEMP) which upgraded the missile's aerodynamics and control system and introduced a bestoke sustainer motor to increase its range. Considerations were made to integrate the AIM-7F Sparrow's sustainer motor instead, however the increased size of the missile would have made it unsuitable for the Tornado's existing mounts and the plan was dropped.
At the turn of the century, the Skyflash would see harsh competition from the AIM-120 AMRAAM which would soon come to replace the missile in use on the Tornado ADV by the mid-2000s, retiring the Skyflash from British service despite a proposed "Active Skyflash" upgrade to the missile.
Excellent additions to the article would be video guides, screenshots from the game, and photos.
- Gibson, Chris; Buttler, Tony (2007). British Secret Projects: Hypersonics, Ramjets and Missiles. Midland Publishing. pp. 47–53. ISBN 978-1-85780-258-0.