As missile technology allowed for viable battlefield weapons to be introduced during the 1950s and 1960s, military powers moved quickly to introduce them for frontline service. One of the greatest threats to ground offensives remained the combat tank - soon embodied by the Main Battle Tank - a heavily-armored, well-armed foe that could turn the tide of any battle (lacking air support). This led army services to heavily invest in, and ultimately adopt, various missile-minded countermeasures for the specific purpose of defeating armor at range. In time, the wire-guided Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) stood at the forefront of anti-armor infantry-level firepower.
The wire-guided nature of these missile-minded weapons rely on signals being processed from the operator's launcher component directly to the missile guidance fit via a physical wire. While this restricts useful effective range out to the length of the wire supply, it offers a basic approach to precision-guided munitions. The operation does expose the operator as he requires Line-of-Sight (LoS) from the launcher to the target in question.
Of course this approach is better than the projectile-based weaponry used in previous conflicts which required much closer engagement ranges and held lower penetration values while also requiring LoS to the target. As it was at this point in military history, the missile was the future of warfare and forces clamored to outdo one another and gain whatever advantage was necessary.
When Soviet authorities sought a new tank-killing weapon centered around the guided missile approach, the Design Bureau of Machine-Building began work such a weapon. The Army required a completely man-portable system also capable of being vehicle- / helicopter-mounted weighing no more than 25lb. Production and operation of the product would have to be simple for mass-production and mass-circulation efforts. Range should be out to 10,000 feet and the missile warhead capable of defeating up to 200mm of armor.
Work spanned from 1961 to 1962 and, after an extensive trials phase, the 9M14 "Malyutka" ("Little One") was adopted by the Soviet Army (NATO recognized the new weapon as the AT-3 "Sagger"). The simply tank-killer would become a long-running success with tens of thousands of missiles produced and a myriad of operators relying on the type. It was featured in many of the clashes of the Cold War period.
As designed, the missile consists of a tubular body housing all applicable systems including the rocket motor, fuel supply, guidance kit and warhead. The nose of the weapon is conical with a small, cylindrical protrusion added. The missile is stabilized along its flight path by four large fins at the rear of the body. The exhaust port for the rocket motor is at the rear of the body. The separate operator's control box used for guidance includes and optics set as well as a joystick-like control-stick for precision maneuvering of the missile as it heads towards its target.
The original model of 1963 was the 9M14 (AT-3A "Sagger-A") and this was followed by the improved 9M14M (AT-3B Sagger-B) in 1973 which introduced a new propulsion system increasing engagement range out to 3 kilometers. Then followed the 9M14P (AT-3C Sagger-C) which included subvariants sporting better warheads with higher penetration values. The AT-3D Sagger-D arrived in the 1990s and the missile was given improved flight performance. Several subvariants marked this entry that included further improvements to penetration as well as an anti-infantry warhead model (9M14-2F).
Several Soviet allies of the period took to local production / development of the AT-3 Sagger series. In China, the missile became the HJ-73 "Red Arrow" and this product entered service in 1979 with variants following. In Iran the series became known as "RAAD" and North Korea adopted a local version under the "Susong-Po" name. Romania joined in with the "Maliutka M2T" and Slovenia used the "POLK" based on the AT-3C production model. For the island nation of Taiwan, the local Sagger development was the "Kun Wu 1".
Operators of the Sagger family were numerous and ultimately ranged from Afghanistan and Algeria to Vietnam and Zimbabwe. While some have moved on to more modern anti-tank / anti-armor means, the AT-3 missile family retains a strong presence in the world today (2017), such has been its imprint on modern warfare.
Notable conflicts where the AT-3 series has been fielded include the Vietnam War (1955-175), Yom Kippur War (1973), the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Gulf War (1991), both Chechen Wars (1994-1996; 1999-2000) and, more recently, the Libyan (2011-Present), Syrian (2011-Present) and Iraqi (2014-Present) civil wars. Its availability and relative effectiveness against new armor and sheer availability means that the AT-3 Sagger should enjoy a few more decades of service.