I'm wondering why such a capable A/C such as the F-16 was limited so often in the air-to-air combat arena by carrying just the AIM-9 Sidewinder
When I did the background research for the Desert Storm Scenarios I found that for that period, 1990-1991, the F-16 models were primarily equipped with the AIM-9. There were some exceptions with Sparrows but the vast majority had Sidewinders. I cannot say that the research was 100% exhaustive but that is what I found publicly available for the F-16 units assigned to Desert Shield/Storm.
I hope my question didn't come across as being a criticism, because that was FAR from the intent, just trying to figure out what the reasoning was behind giving such a capable a/c a limited capability by the Air Force in the first place.
The only US-service F-16s able to fire the AIM-7 were the F-16ADFs of the ANG, and these stayed home during DS (in fact I don't think they were ever employed overseas). The F-16 was never meant to carry the AIM-7 as-designed, and the missile's much larger dimensions & weight compromised the aircraft's performance considerably (one comment I've read online went like this: "the F-15 with 4 Sparrows doesn't get bogged down at all, the F-16 with just two of them flies like a cement truck").
So why no hurry to hang Sparrows on each and every lawn dart? Some of the reasons:
* The USAF was in no rush to arm the F-16 with AIM-7s because it already had a great platform for them, the F-15, and one that they were busy actively protecting from criticism. It's easy to forget now that the Eagle had a rough first decade or so (acute shortage of spares & ground personnel and teething issues with the F100 engines mostly), and the service had to repeatedly stave off "suggestions" that it would be better off halting or even scrapping the Albino procurement altogether and instead turn to other solutions (e.g. super-upgraded Phantoms or even <gasp> land-optimized versions of the F-14 and F/A-18). Sticking Sparrows to the Viper would provide one more argument (flawed as it was) to the "so why do we need the F-15 again?" crowd, so you can understand why the AF was not hot on the concept, ADF notwithstanding.
* The F-16 in frontline USAF service was primarily employed as a fighter-bomber (ie. strike aircraft with good agility & WVR capability) and always as part of a larger package that would involve, among many other things, F-15s as dedicated escorts (or well forward, clearing the path). It was felt that even if a pop-up threat did penetrate the package and posed an immediate threat to the Viper elements, frontal AIM-9L/M quickdraws followed by rapid breakoff (while presumably at the same time the escorts show up to do their job) would be a better response than the drawn-out commitment demanded by the AIM-7. There was also a widely-held belief that "you give a strike or recon pilot any significant A2A armament and he'll run off chasing MiGs instead of doing his real job". (Plus of course, if the F-16s are able to BVR-defend themselves then this weakens the case for the F-15, which brings us back to the previous point.)
* "Better stuff on the way": Already from 1979 (ie. just as the F-16 was entering service) Hughes and Raytheon were selected as finalists for the AMRAAM program, a project that one of whose explicit tenets was to design a BVR missile small enough and light enough to be carried even at the F-16's wingtips. At the time of course nobody knew it would take another 12-13 years to actually reach the field, so with it being "just around the corner, honest!" it was felt that the Sparrow would be superfluous.
* The F-16 was initially designed as a lower-cost, lightweight day & clear-weather only fighter-bomber (in many ways it was Pierre Spey's dream "cheapfighter", though not his direct design as sometimes implied). Part of the initial design direction was a deliberately simple, lightweight, air-cooled APG-66 radar, pretty advanced technologically but deliberately much constrained in its functionality & capabilities, to keep weight & cost in check - and one of the "nice to haves" that was left out was the ability to illuminate for SARH missiles like the Sparrow. By the time the much more comprehensive APG-68 came along the AMRAAM was "entering service any day now, really!" so again Sparrow integration was not seen as priority.
Great points, I wondered if the 1978 AIMEVAL exercise also swayed thinking as well on the Vipers armament. Those exercises showed that an IR equipped lightweight fighter would be able to fire off IR guided missiles against a foe with SARH guided missiles before the foes BVR missiles would reach the lightweight fighter. Remember in Vietnam that Sparrow shots were taken at a maximum of about 12-13 miles and Soviet AAMs such as the Apex had a real life range of not much better than Sparrow.
So imagine if your Viper is heading towards a Flogger, the closing rate will be what where around 1000 knots, the Flogger fires Apex at 12nm(I am being generous here, Sparrow has a range of 27nm and was fired typically at half that Apex I am assuming to be the same), the Flogger comes into AIM9 range at 10NM , roughly 5-7 secs after the Flogger fires, the Viper because the AIM9 is fire and forget can turn 90 degrees and get lost in the Doppler notch of the Floggers radar, the flogger driver has a dilema, turn away from the target and loose SARH guidance or eat an inbound AIM9.
What I hope the above shows is that a SARH equipped fighter might not always have the advantage that you first think it does.
My understanding is that the Sparrow and for that matter Skyflash in the UK was for intended primarily for larger heavier bomber targets that were limited in manouverability. Therefore the longer range of the Sparrow was an advantage in the ANG units based in the US where potentially the target carried nuclear payloads, over the central front the Sparrow would have been much less use.
Hope this helps and I await folk eminently more qualified than this armchair tactician to explain it better.
BTW have you created a scenario in Command to test out the problem? Thats one of the bueaties of Command :-)