The 2K12 surprised the Israelis in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. They were used to having air superiority over the battlefield. The highly mobile 2K12 took a heavy toll on the slower A-4 Skyhawk and even the F-4 Phantom, forming a protective umbrella until they could be removed. The radar warning receivers on the Israeli aircraft did not alert the pilot to the fact that he was being illuminated by the radar. Once the RWRs were reprogrammed and tactics changed, the 2K12 was no longer such a grave threat. Pilots dubbed the 2K12 "Three Fingers of Death", in reference to the launcher's appearance.
The superior low altitude performance of the weapon, and its new CW semi-active missile seeker resulted in a much higher success rate compared to the earlier SA-2 and SA-3 systems. While exact losses continue to be disputed, around 40 aircraft are usually cited as lost to SAM shots, and the 2K12 / SA-6 proved most effective of the three weapons.
On 19 April 1974 a MiG-23MS flown by Maj. El al-Masry is said to have shot down 2 IAF F-4Es during a mission over the Golan Heights against an Israeli offensive to destroy Syrian SAMs. He was subsequently shot down by an AAM fired by the Israelis and apparently by a friendly SA-6 battery.
The Syrians also deployed it during the conflict in Lebanon in mid-1982 against the IAF, but this responded early to the SAM threat in the Beqaa Valley by launching Operation Mole Cricket 19 in which several SA-6, along with SA-2s and SA-3s were destroyed in a single day.
The system was deployed by Libya during the border dispute with Chad and proved a threat for French aircraft, however on January 7, 1987 these were successful in destroying an SA-6 radar site in the Faya Largeau area with SEPECAT Jaguars armed with Martel anti-radiation missiles.
In March, the Chadian rebels captured Ouadi Doum air base and captured practically the whole heavy equipment used for the defense of this airfield intact. Most of this equipment was transported to France and the USA in the following days, but some SA-6s remained in Chad.
With this catastrophe, the Libyan occupation of the northern Chad – and the annexation of the Aouzou Strip – was over: by 30 March, also the bases at Faya Largeau and Aouzou had to be abandoned. The LARAF now has got a completely different task: its Tu-22Bs were to attack the abandoned bases and destroy as much equipment left there as possible. First such strikes were flown in April, and they continued until the 8 August 1987, when two Tu-22Bs which tried to strike Aouzou, were ambushed by a captured SA-6 battery used by the Chadian Army, and one of the bombers shot down.
A USAF F-16 (serial 87-228) was shot down on January 19, 1991 by an SA-6. It was combat loss number 10 in Operation Desert Storm. The pilot, Captain Harry 'Mike' Roberts, ejected safely, but was taken prisoner. The aircraft was on a mission to attack the Air Defense Headquarters Building in Baghdad. It had flown 4 combat missions before being lost.. Two days before, a B-52G was damaged by a SAM which could have been an SA-6 or an SA-3.
In any case, the SA-6 threat was largely controlled by Allied EW assets, but the older SA-2 and SA-3 missile systems shot down several allied aircraft.