The vast airspace over the Russian frontier and the combat-ready atmosphere of the Cold War required the Soviet Army to keep large collections of mobile surface to air missile platforms on hand. To further its reach, these systems were often times sold overseas to allied nations or satellite parties within the Soviet sphere of influence - intended to create all manner of headaches for Western warplanners, primarily the Americans. In 1970, the Soviet Army ushered in the SA-6 "Gainful" tracked mobile missile-based anti-aircraft system to counter low-to-medium flying threats - principally low-flying aircraft and helicopters. In the early 1970s, however, thought was already being given to complementing the existing system with a more advanced type capable of engaging all manner of threats at medium altitudes including cruise missiles. In 1972, Soviet government commissioned for such a system and its design would serve both land- and sea-based assets - the former in its basic tracked form and the latter in launcher only.
One of the key design detriments of the SA-6 Gainful series was multiple launchers reliant on a single fire control radar. The new missile system would, therefore, feature its own integrated fire control radar for improved tactical value. The 9M38 "Buk" missile was designed for placement atop a tracked chassis containing six double-tired road wheels to a track side with a rear-mounted drive sprocket. The completed system would sport a 360-degree traversing launch platform (with powered elevation) mounting 4 x 9M38 missiles.
The new missile system was evaluated during a period spanning 1977 into 1979 to which limited examples made their way into Soviet Army service in time until the system was formally cleared for service in 1980 (designated as the "9K37-1 Buk-1"). The requisite navalized variant became the 3S-90 "Uragan" and this followed in 1983. Recognition by NATO observers in the West produced the SA-11 "Gadfly" designation.
The complete systems package was designed around the 9M38 missile (later the 9M317 missile) which was powered by a solid propellant rocket motor. It sported an operational range out to 20 miles with a defended airspace up to 46,000 feet. The missile relied upon a semi-active radar homing guidance suite and detonated through a radar-based proximity fuse utilizing a fragmentation-high-explosive warhead in the nose cone. Stabilization fins were noted along the missile sides. Overall weight of individual missiles was 700kg. Each missile sported a running length of 5.55 meters. The benefit of such a system was its capability to be fired from various launch platforms not limited to a mobile, land-based vehicle. As such, fixed and naval variants could be developed from the basic design.
By 1983, the 9K37 family was modernized which subsequently led to development and acceptance of and improved missile with improved radar and further protection from enemy jamming signals intended to disrupt the service. The Soviet Army formally adopted this version in 1983 and an export mark then followed. Another modernization effort introduced an improved missile type - the 9M317 - that saw acceptance in 1998 and forced NATO to create the all-new SA-17 "Grizzly" designation to differentiate the two major production types. The Grizzly had the capability to track and intercept ballistic missiles in-air so range, accuracy and power were all improved. The land-based variant also ushered in an equivalent navalized form. A new missile with advanced capabilities was introduced in 2007. A vertical launch unit has also been developed.
9K37 weapons were credited with the downing of at least four Georgian aerial drones during the fighting between Russia and Georgia during the South Ossetia War of 2008. Conversely, Georgian 9K37 systems downed four Russian aircraft in turn. During the conflict, the 9K37 proved its value to a very good extent. Despite its 1970s origins, the modernized forms could still keep pace with more modern aircraft and their respective countermeasures.
Belarus and China have both produced localized copies of the Soviet/Russian 9K37 missile defense family. Both have been modernized in their own respective ways to keep them viable on the modern battlefield. Global operators of the Soviet/Russian design proper have included Belarus, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, Georgia (by way of Ukraine), North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela. Russia maintains approximately 250 examples on hand.