In the skies over Ukraine, a Su-17 fighter-bomber was discovered, leading to speculation that Kyiv’s only fighter-bomber of this type was deployed on duty.
This shows that the Ukrainian Air Force is having to mobilize its last reserves to meet the demands of the battlefield when it has suffered losses in recent times, and to hold out until the F-16 joins the fight.
There is also an opinion that the deployment of the only Su-17 is to familiarize pilots, in order to be ready to receive Su-22 fighter jets (an export version of Su-17) donated by Poland in the near future. The Sukhoi Su-17 is a variable-sweep wing fighter-bomber developed for the Soviet military. Developed from the Sukhoi Su-7, the Su-17 was the first variable-sweep wing aircraft to enter Soviet service and was featured updated avionics. The aircraft also has variants which were designed to be exported to non-Soviet states such as the Sukhoi Su-22 and the less popular Su-20.
The Su-17 Fitter made its first flight on August 2, 1966 and officially joined the Soviet Air Force in 1972. A total of 2,867 airframes were built from 1969 to 1990, and about 30 foreign customers of this fighter type include Iraq, Libya, Syria, Poland, Peru… The West initially believed that the Su-17 was just an experimental aircraft in an early attempt to test swing-wing technology. However, the revised design was so successful that the Soviet Union produced a model known as the Su-17M Fitter-C. This version is integrated with a new, more powerful and fuel-efficient engine, accompanied by a significantly improved navigation and fire control system.
The Ukrainian Su-17M3 belongs to the 3rd generation multi-role tactical aircraft and, despite its outdated design, is a difficult target for interceptors like the MiG-31BM. The aircraft has a high flight speed and high altitude, which provides it with significant combat stability, especially when maneuvering on the return course at maximum speed. Intercepting such a target at long distances of more than 150 – 200 km, especially at a speed of Mark 2, becomes difficult even for R-37M missiles.
In addition, the small radar contour of the Su-17M3 provides it with low visibility, with an effective reflective surface in the region of 2 – 2,5 square meters. Also mentioned is the possibility of adapting the Su-17M3 to the use of JDAM-ER gliding guided bombs, which expands its combat capabilities.
The Fitter has a fuselage length of 19.03 m, wingspan of 10.02 m when swept or 13.68 m when spread, height of 5.12 m, empty weight of 12.1 tons, and maximum takeoff weight of 19.4 tons. The maximum speed of the Su-17/22 reaches Mach 1.77 (1,860 km/h) and the service ceiling is 14,200 m.
The standard weaponry of the Su-17 includes two 30 mm NR-30 autocannons, with 80 rounds per gun. Fitter was designed with a total of twelve hard points, compatible with a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. In the air-to-ground role, the Fitter can carry AS-7, AS-10, AS-11, AS-12 and the AS-14 air-to-surface missiles, as well as conventional drop bombs, laser-guided/electro-optical bombs, napalm, drag chute bombs, cluster bombs, gun pods, and rocket pods. The Fitter can also carry the AA-2, AA-8 and AA-11 air-to-air missiles. Its total weapon payload is about 4 tons.
Fitter variants have fought in many conflicts, including the Iran-Iraq War, the Persian Gulf, the Chadian-Libyan conflict, and the Libyan Civil War. Research shows that Fitter is okay as a ground attack bomber, but statistics show that it has a “disastrous” performance in dog fights. Indeed, the Su-17s and Su-22s were easy prey for Iranian and American fighter pilots. For example, in the Gulf of Sidra incident on August 19, 1981, two Libyan Su-22s were shot down by the US Navy’s F-14 Tomcat. During the Gulf War, specifically on February 7, 1991, two Su-22s and one Su-7 were shot down by the US Air Force’s F-15 Eagle with an AIM-7 Sparrow missile. The following month, two more Su-22s were destroyed by American pilots. Most recently, on June 18, 2017, a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 after it entered the area of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The main disadvantage of the Su-17/22 is that it does not have a radar and must use the Klen-PS/54 electro-optical aiming system to guide the weapon, while the fighter’s viewing angle is quite limited. Not only that, the Fitter’s swept-wing structure brings low mobility and complexity when it comes to technical assurance, so the Su-17 Fitter was eliminated armed forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States after inheriting them from the Soviet Union.