The Sukhoi Design Bureau long ago forged a reputation
for big and powerful fighter-bombers. Today, it is primarily
different variants of the extended ‘Flanker’ family that
catch the eye. Almost un-noticed, a dwindling number
of much older Sukhoi Su-22s remain in service with a
handful of air forces around the world.

report: Tom Cooper with Thomas Newdick

FTEN OVERLOOKED, comes to the total number of Su-20/22s
THE Sukhoi Su-20/22 manufactured and exported. The situation
family was not only is little better when we come to consider
widely exported by reports of how many aircraft were
the former Soviet acquired by each foreign customer. For
Union, but also saw example, while most published Russian
considerable action in around two dozen sources give a production run of only
different conflicts. In Syrian hands, the 771 Su-20s and Su-22s for export, official
‘Fitter’ remains very active in combat Sukhoi Design Bureau records cite 1,165
today, and has become a fixture in that Su-20 and Su-22 airframes manufactured
country’s ongoing civil war. at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur (KnAAPO)
The story of the ‘Fitter’ includes more works for export to 15 countries. A
than a few controversies: Russian sources simple comparison of how many Su-20s
even contradict each other when it and Su-22s have been operated by


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various air arms over the years indicates is the last bastion of the ‘Fitter’ in Europe.
that the former figure is a significant Poland originally acquired 90 single-seat
understatement, while the latter is Su-22M4K and 20 two-seat Su-22UM3K
probably short by several dozen. aircraft, and introduced the type to service
All of the previous-generation Su-20s in August 1984. The type served with the
have now been phased out of service. 6. Pułk Lotnictwa Myśliwsko-Bombowego
Nevertheless, even 25 years after the (6. plmb, 6th Fighter-Bomber Regiment) at
last Su-22 rolled off the production line, Piła, the 40. plmb at Świdwin, the 8. plmb
around 78 of these jets are still in service at Mirosławiec, and the 7. Pułk Lotnictwa
with six air forces. Their story is even more Bombowo-Rozpoznawczego (7. plbr, 7th
surprising considering that, in all the Bomber-Reconnaissance Regiment) at
years since, only a relatively small number Powidz.
have received any kind of significant During 2000, the Polish Su-22 force
avionics upgrade. Instead, most remaining structure was reorganized, and the
Su-22s have merely undergone their remaining units became the 6. Eskadra
usual periodic overhauls and have been Lotnictwa Taktycznego (6. elt, 6th Tactical
This image: A pair operated in their original configuration. Aviation Squadron) and 7. elt at Powidz,
of Polish Air Force
Su-22M4K ‘Fitters’ the 39. and the 40. elt at Świdwin, and the
illustrates the Poland 8. elt at Mirosławiec.
type’s variable- After the type’s systematic disposal Since then, base closures and the arrival
geometry wing
configuration. by Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, East of the Lockheed Martin F-16 have seen the
Jamie Hunter Germany, Hungary and Slovakia, Poland transfer of all the remaining Su-22s to the

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Above: Angolan Su-22M4K serial
C516 is one of the few survivors
from a batch of 14 examples
purchased directly from the
USSR in 1988-89. The aircraft was
overhauled by the 275th ARZ
in Krasnodar, Russia, in the late
2000s. PAST Collection

Left: This Su-22UM3 (former
68 3-6954) was one of the first two
Iranian ‘Fitters‘ reworked by the
Pars Aviation Facility. Fitted with
a with ‘glass’ cockpit and new self-
defense systems, it is seen here
during a test flight at Mehrabad in
June 2015. Keyvan Tavakkoli

Below left: This Su-22M4 (serial
3-6910) was painted in special
colors when it was used as a test
aircraft for the Su-24’s
AL-21F-3 engines. Babak Taghvaee

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and involves the inspection and repair of M-346 Master, of which Poland has Bottom:
critical components. At the same time, ordered an initial batch of eight for lead-
inside one of
the cockpit instruments are rescaled in fighter trainer (LIFT) duties. An armed the hardened
for the imperial system and an 8.33kHz unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft shelters
at Woutia air
communications suite is added, for alternative that has been mooted in the
base in western
compliance with ICAO and Eurocontrol past by the Defense Ministry. Libya, this
standards. Su-22UM3K
Despite this, during 2012 it was decided African rarities was overhauled
by technicians
that the entire fleet would be withdrawn Three African air forces acquired variants of the Libyan
from service in December 2015. These of the Sukhoi Su-20/22: Angola, Libya, and National Air
Force (the
plans were reversed in 2014, when it was Egypt. Algeria is often cited as the fourth
former Free
decided to retain the Su-22. At the same party to do so, but this misunderstanding Libyan Air Force)
time, the fleet was slimmed-down from was caused by Algiers purchasing a and is currently
the only
the previous 32 aircraft to the current 18 batch of Su-20s on behalf of Egypt. Cairo
example of this
examples. originally acquired 16 early-production type in service
It now seems likely that Poland’s Su-22s Su-17s in May 1972, but this variant in that country.
Arnaud Delalande
will remain operational at least until a proved to be a maintenance nightmare
replacement aircraft can be fielded, and and was replaced by 14 Su-20s only a few
it is possible that they will now stay on months later. Egyptian Su-20s suffered
the front line for another 10 years. Their heavy losses during the October 1973 war
ultimate successor may well be a light with Israel, but survivors were reinforced
attack derivative of the Alenia Aermacchi by a similar-sized batch purchased by

21. Baza Lotnictwa Taktycznego (21. BLT, REMEMBERING PERU’S ‘FITTERS’
21st Tactical Air Base) in Świdwin.
The current Polish Air Force fleet Peru was the only Latin American years later, tensions with Ecuador
comprises 12 single-seaters and six customer for the Su-20/22 family. In escalated into a brief but fierce conflict,
1974 Lima and Moscow signed an during which Peruvian Su-22s and
two-seaters. The surviving aircraft have
agreement for the delivery of 32 Su-22s Su-22Ms flew a total of 40 attack sorties.
undergone a limited local upgrade that and four Su-22UMs. The first of these Ecuadorian interceptors shot down two
has added anti-collision lights, a GPS began arriving in June 1977 and entered Su-22s in return (Peruvian sources insist
receiver, Bendix/King tactical navigation service with Escuadrón Aéreo 111. Three that both were downed by Igla shoulder- 69
system, instrumented landing system, and years later, 16 additional Su-22M3Ks and launched surface-to-air missiles).
three Su-22UM3Ks were purchased for The fleet was reduced in size when 12
a digital radio. In late 2010 it was decided
Escuadrón Aéreo 411. At least two aircraft aircraft were phased out in September
that the WZL-2 facility at Bydgoszcz were modified with in-flight refueling 1996, but 18 survivors were overhauled
would extend the service life of two probes of French origin. Although this and upgraded through the addition of
aircraft during routine overhauls, with a installation proved highly successful, a Israeli-made chaff/flare dispensers and
view to performing similar work on the lack of funding prevented a fleet-wide SPO-20 radar warning receivers. A year
introduction. later, the ‘Fitters’ were re-located to Talara
remaining aircraft in order to keep them
The surviving Su-22s were upgraded (near El Pato), where Escuadrón Aéreo
in service until around 2024 or 2026. with Western navigation aids such as VOR 111 celebrated 38,000 flying hours on the
One of the ‘Fitters’, serial 8205, received and ILS, and adapted for the employment type since its service entry. The Peruvian
a new gray camouflage scheme in the of various Western-made weapons, but ‘Fitters’ were retired from service in 2006,
process. The latest phase of work takes budget cuts resulted in the disbandment but 11 aircraft were stored in ‘reserve
of Escuadrón Aéreo 411 in 1993. Two status’ for a number of years longer.
around nine months for each aircraft

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Algiers in early 1974. Egypt withdrew its Above: This
final Su-20s in the early 1980s, replacing Su‑22UM
them with General Dynamics F-16s. serialled 3-6953)
Libya was the second African nation to was planned
acquire the type. About 50 Su-22s and as the first
Iranian Su-22
improved Su-22M/M3K/UM3Ks entered to fly following
service with two units during the late restoration, but
1970s — just in time for two Su-22s from it was not to be.
Amin K.
1022 Squadron to be shot down by a
pair of US Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcats Right: About 42
during the famous Gulf of Sirte incident, new Su-22M4Ks
70 were delivered
on August 19, 1981. Libyan Sukhois to Syria in 1984
subsequently saw intensive action during and 1985. Fewer Su-20/22 NON-WARSAW PACT EXPORT VERSIONS
the war in Chad, where half a dozen were than 20 remain
operational Su-17 Early production aircraft delivered only to Egypt ‘Fitter-C’
written off in combat and other incidents. today, but Su-20 First ‘true’ export version of Su-17 ‘Fitter-C’
All Libyan Su-22s had been withdrawn the fleet was Su-22 Laser rangefinder added under intake ‘Fitter-F’
from service and stored by the early reinforced
Revised airframe based on two-seater, but downgraded
through the Su-22M
compared to Soviet Su-17M3
1990s. About a dozen Su-22M/M3Ks and addition of 10
ex-Iraqi Su-22s Locally (Iraq and Syria)-upgraded Su-22M, compatible
Su‑22UM3Ks were overhauled locally in Su-22M2K
with guided munitions
the late 2000s, but all were destroyed by donated by Iran
in early 2015. Su-22M3K As Su-22M but with improved avionics of Su-17M3 ‘Fitter-J’
US-led air strikes during the civil war in Su-22M4K Definitive export version, equivalent to Su-17M4 ‘Fitter-K’
2011. Right: One of the Su-22UM Conversion trainer ‘Fitter-E’
Today, just one Su-22UM3K remains few Su-22UMs Su-22UM2K Improved conversion trainer, cited in Iraqi and Syrian documents
acquired by
in service. The example in question was Yemen during Su-22UM3K Conversion trainer, equivalent to Su-22M3K ‘Fitter-G’
found inside one of the hardened aircraft the 1980s, and Conversion trainer, existence disputed but clearly cited in
overhauled in Iraqi and Syrian documents
shelters at Woutia air base in western Libya
Ukraine in the
and was overhauled by personnel of the 1990s.
Free Libyan Air Force, which is fighting on
the side of the internationally recognized
Libyan government against the Libyan
Dawn alliance, and various Islamist groups
controlling the center of the country.
Angola procured a batch of 10 Su-22s
and two Su-22UM two-seat conversion
trainers in the early 1980s. Operated by
a squadron of the 26th Fighter-Bomber
Regiment from Namibe air base — staffed
by Angolans but supported by numerous
Soviet advisers — they suffered significant
attrition and were replaced by 14 of the
definitive Su-22M4K model, acquired in
1988-89. During 1996, Angola purchased

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10 Su-22M4Ks and two Su-22UM3Ks from
Slovakia, followed by several additional
examples acquired from Belarus in the late
1990s. Finally, Slovakia sold its remaining
four Su-22M4Ks and one Su-22UM3K to
Luanda in 2001.
The Angolan fleet saw extensive combat — the largest foreign user of the Su-20/22 of their Iraqi pilots were highly decorated. Above: Syria
service against the regular South African family — Syria and Yemen acquired the However, the Iraqi Sukhois also suffered acquired 40
Defence Force in the 1980s, but above type. the heaviest losses: no fewer than 64 Su-22Ms
all against the insurgents of the National The Soviets literally dumped 10 Su-20s Su-20s and Su-22s of different variants (together with
Union for the Total Independence of upon Iraq mid-way through the October (including all but two of the original 36 10 Su-22UMs)
during 1979-82.
Angola (UNITA) during the 1990s and into 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Although Iraqi Su-22s) were shot down by Iranian air In the second
the early 2000s. About a dozen selected Air Force (IrAF) crews test-flew the type defenses between 1980 and 1988. half of the 1980s
survivors were overhauled by the 558th in early 1973, and the IrAF planned to Ironically, while no Su-20s or Su-22s survivors were
overhauled at
Aviation Repair Plant (ARZ) at Baranovichi, acquire some, Baghdad had not yet survive in Iraqi service, former IrAF Nayrab IAP and
Belarus, in 2007, and then received an placed an order when Soviet transport examples remain operational elsewhere. brought up to a
avionics upgrade by the WZL-2 works aircraft began delivering them. The Four Su-20s and 40 Su-22s of different standard locally
in Poland. Further Angolan ‘Fitters’ were remaining eight aircraft from this batch sub-variants (including three Su-22M4Ks as Su-22M2K.
subsequently overhauled at the 275th followed in 1974. Upon entering service modified by Iraq to carry in-flight Ever since, they
ARZ in Krasnodar, Russia. Combat and with 1 Squadron, IrAF, they saw their refueling probes) were evacuated to Iran have worn this
peacetime attrition whittled the fleet baptism of fire during the Kurdish uprising during the Gulf War of 1991. After nearly consisting of
down to 10 Su-22M4Ks (serials C503, C507, of 1974-75. 25 years in open storage, the Pars Aviation orange/sand
C509, C516, C517, C518, C522, C521, C550 According to Iraqi documentation, 36 Facility began overhauling ex-Iraqi and green/blue
on the upper
and C551) and four Su-22UM3Ks (I-34, Su-22s, 36 Su-22Ms (24 of which were Su-22M4Ks and Su-22UM3Ks at Mehrabad surfaces.
I-35, I-36, and I-38). These remain in service upgraded to Su-22M2K standard, making air base in 2013, with the intention of Tom Cooper
with the Fighter-Bomber Squadron of them compatible with guided weapons), offering the Islamic Republic of Iran Air
This image:
the sole Fighter-Bomber Regiment of the 18 Su-22M3Ks, 36 Su-22M4Ks and an Force (IRIAF) the option to establish a unit From 1983,
National Angolan Air Force (FAN — Força unknown number of two-seat conversion equipped with them. The IRIAF showed Syria procured
Aérea Nacional de Angola), stationed at trainers of the Su-22UM3K/4K sub-variants little interest and 10 were 20 Su-22M3Ks.
After being 71
Air Base No 5, Catumbela. were acquired in the period from 1976 then taken over by the overhauled in
to 1986. The type was the backbone of Islamic Revolutionary the late 2000s,
Middle East the Iraqi Air Force for most of the 1980s, Guards Corps (IRGC) — around a dozen
remain in
By far the largest number of export bearing the brunt of the war with Iran. which in turn donated service.
Su-20/22s was delivered to various air ‘Fitters’ flew the highest number of attack them to the Assad
forces in the Middle East. As well as Iraq sorties of all types in service, and dozens regime in Syria, in

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early 2015. Three other examples were were
overhauled and are still used for some test withdrawn
work in Iran, but the IRIAF is likely to lose during the
any interest should its plan to order Su-30s 1990s and 2000s,
from Russia become reality. years in which the Syrian armed forces
The early story of the Su-20 and Su-22 were almost completely neglected.
in Syria was similar to that of the Iraqi Therefore, just seven Su-22M2Ks, Above:
‘Fitters’. Fifteen Su-20s from the first 12 Su‑22M3Ks, 24 Su-22M4Ks, five A Vietnamese
series were delivered to Nayrab air base Su‑22UM2Ks and four or five Su-22UM4Ks of the 921st remaining Syrian Su-22s are now located
(Aleppo International) in September survived intact by 2010, when some of Regiment, at Tiyas air base, in central Syria, but small
1973, entering service with 685 Squadron. the M3Ks and M4Ks were given a local 371st Division, detachments regularly operate from other
returning to
Operating from Tiyas air base (also known overhaul. Noi Bay. This airfields, foremost Hama.
as T4), they flew 98 sorties during the The fleet saw intensive action in the regiment According to Yemeni sources, the former
October 1973 conflict, and eight were lost Syrian Civil War during the second half converted from Yemen Arab Republic Air Force (YARAF,
MiG-21s to a mix
in combat. of 2012 and throughout 2013, and even of Su-22M3Ks, North Yemen) received 12 Su-22Ms, only
For most of the 1970s Moscow strongly proved quite effective — especially after Su-22M4Ks and weeks after a short war with the former
resisted further Syrian demands for such Syria adopted the Iranian suggestion of Su-22UM3Ks People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen
beginning in
aircraft and thus it was only in 1979-82 arming them with B-8M pods for 80mm 2012. (PDRY, South Yemen), in summer 1979.
72 that 40 new Su-22Ms were supplied. unguided rockets. However, the fleet was These entered service with 18 Squadron
They flew around 40 sorties during the depleted through four confirmed losses Below: The of the 2nd Fighter-Bomber Regiment,
929th Regiment
Lebanon War of 1982: while Israel claimed and heavy utilization. A few additional of the 372nd YARAF.
no fewer than eight shot down, Syria aircraft were overhauled during 2014, Division (based The former South Yemen is said
confirmed the loss of only one example. leaving about a dozen Su-22M4Ks as at Da Nang) and to have acquired no fewer than 60
one squadron
Additional batches including 20 the backbone of whatever is left of the of the 937th Su-22s, Su-22M3Ks, Su-22M4Ks and
Su‑22M3Ks were delivered in 1983, air force of the Syrian regime. It was Regiment of the Su-22UM3Ks during the second half of
followed by no fewer than 42 Su-22M4Ks therefore unsurprising that Iran — which 370th Division the 1980s. These entered service with
(Phan Rang)
between 1984 and 1985, while all is supporting the regime in Damascus not remain major two squadrons (including 6 Squadron) of
surviving Su-22Ms were locally upgraded only financially and with deliveries of fuel, users of the the 15th Attack Regiment. The majority
to Su-22M2K standard. By 1988, four but also with around 40,000 of its own Su-22M4K and of Sukhois from both air forces survived
Su-22UM3K in
squadrons were equipped with different and Iraqi Shi’a troops — donated 10 ex- Vietnamese the war that resulted in unification of the
Su-20/22 variants. The remaining Su-20s Iraqi Su-22M4Ks to Syria, early in 2015. The service. country in 1994. Subsequently, all Su-22s

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and Su‑22Ms were withdrawn. About
20 Su-22M3Ks and Su-22UM3Ks were
overhauled locally, along with a number
of the 28 Su-22M4Ks that were still intact.
About a dozen of the latter were sent
to Ukraine for similar overhauls in the
2000s. The fleet was very active during
the Yemen Civil War of 2009-10, and two 73
Sukhois were lost either to ground fire
or to technical mishaps. However, as of
early 2015 the Yemeni ‘Fitters’ were largely
grounded due to a lack of funding and
spares. Only 15 were considered ‘fully
mission-capable’ at the onset of the
Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen,
launched on March 25, 2015, and nearly all Above: One of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in Republic, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. In
the Vietnamese
were destroyed on the ground. 1989. Following large-scale defections 1998, a Sukhoi/KnAAPO team in Russia
that was from the air force, most were in the upgraded 54 aircraft, including the full
Asian ‘Fitters’ overhauled in hands of opposition forces by 1995, fleet of Su-22UM3Ks.
Russia in 1998
Only two Soviet allies in Asia ever placed when the Taliban rapidly brought most Today, around 40 Vietnamese ‘Fitters’
takes off from
orders for Su-22s: Afghanistan and the military of Afghanistan under its control. More remain in service with three regiments.
Vietnam. side of Hanoi defections followed, enabling the Taliban The 921st Regiment at Noi Bay has
Afghanistan received around 30 to establish its own air force that included operated the Su-22M3K, Su-22M4K
Su‑22s and Su-22M3Ks during the early some six Su-22s and Su-22M4Ks, flown by and Su-22UM3K since 2012; the 929th
1980s. They saw relatively intensive Afghan pilots. They continued operations Regiment at Da Nang has a single
combat against the Pakistan-supported until the US-led intervention in October squadron of Su-22M4K and Su-22UM3K
Mujahideen while in service with the 2001, when most of the aircraft were aircraft; and the 937th Regiment at Than
Bagram-based 355th Aviation Regiment. destroyed on the ground. Son (Phan Rang) also flies the Su-22M4K
Around 45 Su-22M4Ks entered service Vietnam acquired 40 Su-22M3Ks and and Su-22UM3K.
starting in 1984-87. Attrition was heavy: three Su-22UM3Ks. Delivered from During 2015 the 937th Regiment lost
not only were some aircraft sabotaged 1980-84, they were assigned to the 923rd two Su-22s (serials 5857 and 5863) after
on the ground, but others crashed due Regiment. The type saw some action they collided and crashed into the sea.
to pilot errors, around a dozen were shot against Cambodia, and against local Both pilots were killed.
down by insurgents, and three were insurgents during the war in Laos later Overall, the story of the Su-20/22
claimed as shot down by Pakistani F-16s. in the same decade. In 1989 Vietnam in worldwide service is obviously
Meanwhile, one pilot defected with his received the latest Su-22M4K version, 16 approaching its end. Nevertheless,
brand-new Su-22M4K to Pakistan. of which were delivered. Forty additional the remaining examples are still well
Nevertheless, around three-dozen Su-17M4s and Su-22M4Ks were also appreciated by their crews, and are likely
Su-22s remained operational after the acquired second-hand from the Czech to soldier on for a few more years yet.

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