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Why America’s Mighty Military Doesn’t Always Dominate the Battlefield

Early in the Vietnam War, during Operation Rolling Thunder, initial versions of the AIM-9 only managed to achieve a dismal 16 percent success rate—only 29 missiles out of the 187 launched hit their targets. For the longer range AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar-guided missile, it was even worse—it hit only eight percent of its intended targets, with only 27 hits out of 340 launches. Even during the late phases of the Vietnam War, during Operations Linebacker I & II in 1972 and 1973, the AIM-7 achieved a dismal 11 percent success rate while the AIM-9 wallowed at a 19 percent hit rate. By the time of the 1991 Gulf War, newer version of the AIM-7 achieved a 51 percent hit rate while the AIM-9 achieved a 67 percent hit rate—according to data compiled by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis.