Jane's credits the first combat use of the missile as being in 1969 during the War of Attrition by Egyptian soldiers. The first 'kill' was claimed on 19 August 1969. A 102 Squadron A-4H Skyhawk was hit with a shoulder-fired missile 12 miles west of the Suez Canal and pilot SqL Nassim Ezer Ashkenazi captured. Between this first firing and June 1970 the Egyptian army fired 99 missiles resulting in 36 hits. The missile proved to have poor kinematic reach against combat jets, and also poor lethality as many aircraft that were hit managed to return safely to base. The missile was used later in the Yom Kippur War, where Strela were fired in the hundreds, scoring few hits and fewer kills (A-4s had their exhaust pipes lengthened, in order to prevent fatal damage to the engine, a solution made in the previous war, together with flare launchers) but, together with Shilka and SA-2/3/6s, they caused very heavy losses to the Israeli Air Force in the first days, after that the Arab SAMs firings were so high, that they almost depleted their weapon stocks. SA-7s were not that effective against fast jets, but they were the best weapon available to Arab infantry at the time.
A Strela 2 was reportedly used by the Islamist militant group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis to destroy an Egyptian military Mil-8 helicopter operating in the northern Sinai region on 26 January 2014 near Sheikh Zuweid (close to the border with Gaza), killing its five occupants. This is the first attack of this type during the Sinai insurgency, which has raged on the peninsula due to the security and political turmoil since the 2011 revolution. The MANPADS is reported by United Nations to have come from former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's large stocks, which have been widely proliferated after Libya's civil war chaos and have become a concern to regional and world security.
The Strela was deployed by Syrian forces occupying Lebanon, along with other Soviet air-defense systems that challenged U.S., French and Israeli airpower in the aftermath of the 1982 conflict and the deployment of the Multinational Force in Lebanon during that year. On 10 November 1983, a French Super Etendard escaped from being hit by an SA-7 near Bourj el-Barajneh while flying over Druze positions and, on 3 December, more Strelas and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) were fired at United States Navy F-14 Tomcats flying a reconnaissance mission.
The Americans responded with a large strike package of 12 A-7 Corsairs and 16 A-6 Intruders (supported by a single E-2C Hawkeye, two EA-6B Prowlers and two F-14As) launched from the carriers USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) and USS Independence (CV-62) sailing in the Mediterranean. The aircraft were to bomb Syrian installations, AAA sites and weapons depots near Falouga and Hammana, some 16 km north of Beirut-Damascus highway, when they were received by a volley of (possibly up to 40) Syrian SAMs, one of which hit a Corsair (AE305 of the VA-15) and forcing the pilot to eject over the sea before being rescued by a USN search and rescue mission.
The attack formation broke, every pilot attacked each objective on its own and it prompted the shooting down of the second U.S aircraft: an Intruder from VA-85 was hit either by an SA-7 or an SA-9. This forced the navigator, Lieutenant Bobby Goodman to eject near a village surrounded by Syrian positions, while the pilot of the A-6, Lt. Mark Lange, ejected too late and died from his wounds soon after being captured by Syrian soldiers and Lebanese civilians. Goodman was captured by the Syrians and taken to Damascus before being freed in January 1984.
A second Corsair, searching for the downed Intruder crew, was later hit by an SA-7 but the pilot, Cdr. Edward Andrews, managed to eject over the sea near Beirut and was rescued by a Christian fisherman and his son who in turn handed him over to the U.S Marines.
During the current civil war, several Strelas have made their way to rebel hands and their firings have been uploaded to YouTube. In 2013, Foreign Policy, citing rebels sources, reported the shipment, with Qatari help, of some 120 SA-7s from Libya (with large stocks acquired by Muammar Gaddafi and proliferated after that country's civil war) thorough Turkey and with Turkish authorities' knowledge.
On 24 June 1974, Palestinians in southern Lebanon fired two SA-7s against invading Israeli aircraft, though no hits were scored.
Hezbollah has also reportedly fielded some Strelas and fired two against Israeli warplanes on 12 June 2001 near Tyre, but these too failed to hit.
In the early dawn of 31 January 1991, during the Battle of Khafji in Operation Desert Storm, an Iraqi soldier shot down an American AC-130H gunship, AF Serial No. 69-6567, with a Strela 2, killing all 14 crewmembers.
Strela-2 missiles have been used against Turkish Army helicopters by the PKK in Northern Iraq. During Operation Hammer; on 18 May 1997, a Strela-2 missile was used to shoot down an AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter. Only a couple of weeks later, on 4 June 1997, another Strela was used to down a Turkish Army AS-532UL Cougar transport helicopter in the Zakho area, killing the 11 occupants. The video of the first attack was used extensively for PKK propaganda and eventually released to the Internet. Greece and Serbia's intelligence services, as well as Iran, Syria, Armenia, and Cyprus were traced as possible sources of the missiles.
A Strela-2 missile is said to have been used in April 2005, when members of the insurgents shot down an Mi-8 helicopter operated by Blackwater, killing all 11 crew members. The Islamic Army in Iraq took responsibility for the action and a video showing the downing was released on the Internet. The missile launcher is not visible on the video, however, making it impossible to confirm the type of MANPADS used.
The spate of helicopter shoot downs during 2006 and 2007 in Iraq has been partly attributed to the prevalence of the Strela amongst Sunni insurgent groups of that time; while al Qaeda is said to have produced an hour-long training video on how to use SA-7s.
In late 2001, a Sudanese man with links to Al-Qaida fired an SA-7 at an American F-15 Eagle fighter taking off from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. The missile missed the target and was not detected by the pilot or anyone at the base. Saudi police found the empty launcher in the desert in May 2002, and a suspect was arrested in Sudan a month later. He led police to a cache in the desert where a second missile was buried.
During October 2012, militants in Gaza fired a Strela in an attempt to down an IDF helicopter. During Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas released a video purporting to be a launch of Strela missile at an IAF target. One was also reportedly fired in March 2013 from Gaza at an IAF helicopter.
The Strela-2 system was also given to North Vietnam forces, where along with the more advanced Strela-2M it achieved 204 hits out of 589 firings against US aircraft between 1972 and 1975 according to Russian sources. (Some sources, such as Fiszer (2004), claim that it had already been in use from 1968 onwards).
A total of approximately 40–50 kills are attributed to Strela-2/2M hits between 1970 and the fall of Saigon, almost all against helicopters and propeller-driven aircraft. As in the War of Attrition, the missile's speed and range proved insufficient against fast jets and results were very poor: only one US Skyhawk and one South Vietnamese F-5 are known to have been shot down by with Strela-2s during the conflict.
US fixed-wing losses are listed in the following table. The internet site Arms-expo.ru states 14 fixed-wing aircraft and 10 helicopters were shot down with 161 missile rounds used between 28 April and 14 July 1972; the difference in fixed-wing losses may be at least partly due to South Vietnamese aircraft shot down by the weapon.
Strela-2M was used also in Afghanistan during the Soviet war in Afghanistan by the Mujahiddeen. The missiles were obtained from various sources, some from Egypt and China (locally manufactured Sakr Eye and HN-5 versions of the SAM), and the CIA also assisted the guerrillas in finding missiles from other sources.
Results from combat use were not dissimilar from experiences with the Strela-2/2M from Vietnam: while 42 helicopters were shot down by various Strela-2 variants (including a few Mi-24s until exhaust shrouds made them next to invisible to the short-wavelength Strela-2 seeker) only five fixed-wing aircraft were destroyed with the weapon. Due to its poor kinematic performance and vulnerability to even the most primitive infra-red countermeasures, the guerrillas considered the Strela-2 suitable for use against helicopters and prop-driven transports, but not combat jets.
However, the recent studies and interviews after the Cold war say that most Strelas sold to the Mujahiddeen on the black market were broken/damaged or faulty. This is possibly another reason why the Soviet army in Afghanistan didn't expect working anti-aircraft missiles like the Stinger to be used.
On 22 July 2007 the first reported attack of the Taliban against a coalition aircraft using MANPADS was reported. The weapon was reported to be an SA-7 allegedly smuggled from Iran to the Taliban. The missile failed after the crew of the USAF C-130, flying over the Nimroz province, launched flares and made evasive manoeuvers.
However, most of the Strelas operated by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are probably inherited from fighters that used it during the Soviet invasion. Most are probably faulty, broken or in other ways not usable (even from the beginning) against military helicopters, with the intercepts of NATO aviation by Stingers (acquired also during 80s) or other missiles.
There are many reports of SA-7s being used in Africa; it must be made clear, however, that it is not easy to say which types of Russian (or Chinese) MANPADS were used, be they SA-7a, -b or newer types, such as the SA-14.
When PAIGC rebels in Guinea began to receive SA-7s in early 1973, these immediately became a threat to Portuguese air superiority. On 23 March 1973, two Portuguese Air Force (FAP) Fiat G.91s were shot down by SA-7s, followed six weeks later by another Fiat, and a Dornier Do 27.
FRELIMO fighters in Mozambique were also able to field some SA-7s with Chinese support, although the weapon is not known to have caused any losses to the FAP, even if it forced Portuguese pilots to change their tactics. In one case a Douglas DC-3 carrying foreign military attaches and members of the senior Portuguese military command was hit by an SA-7 in one of the engines. The crippled plane managed to land safely and was later repaired.
In Angola and Namibia, SA-7s were deployed against the South African Air Force with limited success. The SAAF lost Atlas Impalas to Strelas on 24 January 1980 and 10 October 1980. Another Impala was hit by an SA-7 on 23 December 1983, but the pilot was able to fly the aircraft back to Ondangwa AB. UNITA also reportedly obtained 50 SA-7s that Israel had captured, via the CIA. The first one was fired at Cuban aircraft by a French mercenary on 13 March 1976, but the missile failed to hit the target. The individual missiles may have been in poor condition, as none scored a direct hit. Additionally, it is claimed that UNITA used SA-7s to shoot down two Transafrik International Lockheed L-100-30 Hercules flying UN charters, on 26 December 1998 and 2 January 1999, both near Huambo.
Using an SA-7, the Sudan People's Liberation Army shot down a Sudan Airways Fokker F-27 Friendship 400M taking off from Malakal on 16 August 1986, killing all 60 on board. On 21 December 1989, an Aviation Sans Frontières Britten-Norman BN-2A-9 Islander (F-OGSM) was shot down by an SA-7 while taking off from Aweil Sudan, killing the four crew on board.
The Polisario Front has used SA-7s against the Royal Moroccan Air Force and Mauritanian Air Force during the Western Sahara War over the former Spanish colonies of the Spanish Sahara. The Mauritania Air Force lost a Britten-Norman Defender to a SA-7 fired by the Polisario on 29 December 1976. Between 1975 and 1991, the Royal Moroccan Air Force has lost several Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighters and Dassault Mirage F1s to SA-7s fired by the Polisario. In a case of mistaken identity, a Dornier Do 228 owned by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research was shot down over the Western Sahara near Dakhla on 24 February 1985. Two Dornier 228s named Polar 2 and Polar 3 were on a return flight to Germany following a South Pole expedition. After having taken off from Dakar, Senegal, en route to Arrecife, Canary Islands, flying 5 minutes behind Polar 2 and at a lower altitude (9,000 feet), Polar 3 was shot down by a SA-7 fired by the Polisario. The crew of three was killed. In another incident, on 8 December 1988, two Douglas DC-7CFs flying at 11,000 feet from Dakar, Senegal to Agadir, Morocco for a locust control mission there, had SA-7s fired at them by the Polisario. One aircraft, N284, was hit and lost one of its engines and part of a wing. This led to the aircraft crashing, killing the crew of five. The other aircraft, N90804, also was hit and lost an engine along with suffering other damage, but it was able to land safely at Sidi Ifni Morocco.
During the Rhodesian Bush War, members of the military wing of the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army brought down two Vickers Viscount civilian airliners near Kariba; the first in September 1978, the second in February 1979. There was great loss of life in both instances as the flights were returning from a well known tourist attraction.
Vickers Viscount, Flight RH825, 3 September 1978 – downed by a Strela missile near Kariba Dam. After initial impact, the pilot was able to make an emergency landing in a nearby field but the aircraft broke up on impact. Eighteen of the fifty-six passengers in the tail section survived the crash. Ten of these survivors were shot dead at the crash-site by insurgents, who later looted the bodies and wreckage.
Vickers Viscount, Flight RH827, 12 February 1979 – shot by down Strela missile near Kariba Dam; all 59 people on board were killed.
UNITA claimed that they used one to shoot down a TAAG Boeing 737-2M2 taking off from Lubango on 8 November 1983.
A Lignes Aériennes Congolaises Boeing 727-30 taking off from Kindu was shot down by an SA-7 fired by rebel forces in 1998, killing all 41 on board.
Two missiles were fired at a Boeing 757 during the 2002 Mombasa attacks. Neither missile struck its target.
Strela-2M missiles were available to Argentinian troops in the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War. War Machine Encyclopedia gives no launch recorded, but several missiles were captured. The missiles were supplied by Libya.
The Strela-2 was used by both Sandinista government forces and Contra insurgents during the 1979–1990 civil war.
On 3 October 1983, at about 10:00 am, a Contra-operated Douglas DC-3 carrying supplies, that had taken off from Catamacas airport in Honduras, was hit and downed by a Strela fired by Sandinista soldier Fausto Palacios over the Los Cedros area, in the Nueva Segovia Department. Four crewmen were captured by government forces while one died in the attack. The pilot, Major Roberto Amador Alvarez, as well as his co-pilot Capt. Hugo Reinaldo Aguilar were former members of the extinct National Guard of the former dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
On 27 August 1984, a Contra-operated Douglas C-47 Skytrain was hit and downed by another Strela fired by Sandinista soldier Fanor Medina Leyton. Sources differ over the attack and crash area: both a Russian source and Sandinista officials reported the Jinotega Department, while the Aviation Safety Network reports the Quilalí area in the Nueva Segovia department. All eight occupants were killed. The pilot, José Luis Gutiérrez Lugo, was reported as a former pilot for the Somoza family. Sandinista and Contra forces subsequently battled for the control of six packages dropped from the plane.
On 5 October 1986 a Corporate Air Services C-123 Provider (HPF821, previously N4410F and USAF 54-679, (c/n 20128)) conducting a covert drop of arms to Contra fighters in Nicaragua was shot down by Sandinista soldier José Fernando Canales Alemán, using an SA-7. CIA pilots William J. Cooper and Wallace "Buzz" Sawyer as well as radio operator Freddy Vilches were killed in the crash. Loadmaster Eugene Hasenfus parachuted to safety and was taken prisoner. He was later released in December 1986. The flight had departed Ilopango Airport, El Salvador loaded with 70 Soviet-made AK-47 rifles and 100,000 rounds of ammunition, rocket grenades and other supplies.
FMLN rebels acquired SA-7 missiles around 1989 and employed them extensively in the closing years of the Salvadoran Civil War, dramatically increasing the combat losses of Salvadoran Air Force aircraft. At least two O-2 Skymasters (on 26 September and 19 November 1990), one A-37 Dragonfly (on November 23, 1990), two Hughes 500 helicopters (2 February and 18 May 1990), and two UH-1Hs were lost to SA-7s. One of the UH-1Hs (on 2 January 1991) was crewed by US Army personnel, while the other was operated by the Honduran Air Force.
In late December 2012, a video showing FARC rebels attempting to shoot down a Colombian Air Force Arpía helicopter with an SA-7 in the Cauca raised the alarm in the Colombian military, though the missile failed.
During that same month, a Strela was captured by the Colombian military. It is believed that they might came from Cuba, Nicaragua or Peru; the only Latin American operators of the type. Furthermore, the CIA's motive to remove and destroy Chinese copies of the SA-7 (HN-5s) from Bolivia in 2005 was the fear of them reaching FARC rebels because, according to a US military magazine, “they used the HN-5 against Colombian-operated U.S-made helicopters”. The Ecuadorian Army captured an HN-5 allegdly destined for the FARC in the border province of Sucumbíos, near Colombia, in July 2013.
The system was used on a large scale during the wars in former Yugoslavia by all Yugoslav successor states and factions. Among Strela's victims in these conflicts were military jets and helicopters.
The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) acquired some missiles that were reported to have been fired at a British Army Air Corps Lynx helicopter in 1991 in South Armagh, however, it missed its target. To counter the new threat, the British helicopters flew in pairs below 50 feet or above 500 feet.
In 2001, the Basque separatist group ETA tried on three occasions (29 April, 4 and 11 May) to use Strela 2 missiles to shoot down the Dassault Falcon 900 aircraft with the then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on board. The attempts, which were made near the Fuenterrabía and Foronda airports, were unsuccessful as each time the missiles failed to launch. In 2004, several systems were captured by the Civil Guard. Some Strela 2 missiles were bought from the IRA in 1999, while Libya was tracked as the original source used by the IRA.
Following the toppling of President Viktor Yanukovich in February 2014, separatists in the Eastern part of Ukraine began using the Strela SAMs in their insurgency against Ukrainian forces. This Soviet-made weapon is found in large numbers throughout the territory of the former USSR.