With more nimble and advanced aircraft emerging from the West during the Cold War decades, it fell to Soviet engineers to develop counters when protecting the vast airspace of the Soviet frontier. These sort of developments always began with a more capable missile to which an associated tracking and engagement suite was coupled. The completed unit could then be seated on any tracked or wheeled chassis capable of carrying the weapon's weight or affixed as a static emplacement to defend key Soviet installations or regions.
In 1961, adoption of the S-125 "Neva" (also "Pehora") occurred in the Soviet Army. Its design was attributed to engineer Aleksei Mihailovich Isaev from the Almaz Central Design Bureau and intended as a bridge to the earlier S-25 "Berkut" missile series of 1955 and the high-altitude S-75 "Dvina" system of 1957. The S-125 went on to see combat service in the Yom Kippur War (1973), Angolan Civil War (1975-2002), the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Gulf War (1991), and the Kosovo War (1998-1999). Its widespread acceptance in the inventories of many Soviet-supported states and allies has allowed it to remain a viable air-defense system even today (2014). Additionally, modernization programs have expanded its battlefield usefulness for some host nations.
The basic vehicle for the S-125 launcher was a 6x6 wheeled Soviet Army truck which utilized a standard automobile configuration with a front-mounted diesel-powered drive and a three-person cab. This arrangement typically saw two of the large missiles seated over the rear of the vehicle. The launcher held an inherent elevation range as well as traversal. Deployment was first seen around the capital city of Moscow beginning in 1961 and, in time, the Soviet Navy deployed a special over-water version. Further development begat a quadruple missile launcher developed to increase first-hit chances.
Following in 1964 was a slightly revised form with improved guidance and added a modified rocket booster by way of the "S-125M" designation. It was, itself, improved through the upcoming "S-125M1". The navalized version became the SA-N-1 (M-1 "Volna"). Original missiles were designated "V-600" and sported a 132lb warhead with an engagement range out to 9.3 miles. Improvements to its design brought about adoption of the "V-601" series which added a further 22lbs to the warhead with drastically increased engagement beyond 20 miles. The warhead in both types was of a High-Explosive, FRAGmentation (HI-FRAG) design with command-based detonation. The missile was powered by a solid propellant rocket motor capable of reaching altitudes beyond 55,000 feet.
Beyond the missile section of the SA-3 arrangement was its direction radar. This was actually a collection of accompanying systems that included a C-band target acquisition element, a fire control and guidance segment, and an E-band altitude/rangefinder. Working collectively, the arrangement ensured a potent level of success even against fast-moving, agile targets.
For the remerging Russian Army, the S-125 series was eventually succeeded by the SA-10 "Grumble" (S-300) and SA-12 "Giant" families. Other operators have either discontinued use of the line or have developed local modernization programs (as is the case with Serbian and Ukrainian stocks). Former operators include Afghanistan, Cambodia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Finland, Hungary, Iraq, Romania, Russia, Somalia, Slovakia, South Yemen, and Yugoslavia. Russia retired their stock during the 1990s and Iraq's collection was destroyed in the 2003 American-led invasion. Back in the 1991 Gulf War campaign, Iraqi SA-3s managed limited success against coalition aircraft - though claiming at least one General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon multirole fighter.
Notable current operators (as of 2014) include Angola, Cuba, Egypt, Georgia, India, Libya, North Korea, Poland, Syria, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Yemen (among others, see operators list).