In the skies over Estonia, where NATO is holding the drill “Spring Storm – 2021”, Polish Air Force Su-22M4 fighter jets also participate.
The Soviet Su-17 fighters, or the export variant Su-22M4, have long been retired in Russia, but still participate in NATO exercises, which take place right near the Russian border. This is not the only example of Soviet-era weapons still being used in the West, for both military and civilian purposes. So does this pose any threat to the Russian Armed Forces?
In the skies over Estonia, where NATO is holding the drill “Spring Storm – 2021”, Polish Air Force Su-22M4 fighter jets also participate. These are fairly old aircraft, serving in the Polish Air Force since the early 1980s, when Poland was a member of the Warsaw Pact. The Polish Su-22M4s are third-generation fighter-bombers with relatively good performance. This was the first Soviet fighter with a “variable swept-wing” design, favoring ground attack. Su-22 participated in the Afghanistan war, as a bomber of the Soviet Army.
Currently in Russia, the Su-17/22 can only be seen in a few aviation museums. A total of 2,867 units were produced. In addition to the Soviet Air Force, the Su-17/22 served in 15 countries, including those of the Warsaw Pact. The Su-17/22 has been retired from the Russian Air Force since 1998; but in some countries, including Poland, they continue to be used in some modernized versions. Poland is also currently the only country in Europe that is still using the Su-22M4K fighter.
Currently, the Polish Air Force has 12 Su-22M4Ks and 6 on training missions. Their service life has been extended to 2026. Polish Su-22M4Ks are upgraded to NATO standards, including communication, navigation, electronic warfare and missile systems. In addition to ground attack capabilities, the Su-22M4K also performs reconnaissance missions. During NATO exercises in Estonia, the Polish Su-22M4K participated as an air reconnaissance aircraft.
Currently, the Polish Air Force does not have any special fighter that is too modern. In its Air Force, there are still up to 20 Soviet MiG-29A fighters, but not as modernly upgraded as the Russian MiG-29Ms. The Polish Air Force also purchased 48 F-16 C/Ds from the US (including 36 fighters and 12 trainers). They also ordered 32 F-35s, but have not yet entered service. To ensure strength, the Polish Air Force said that it only removed Soviet aircraft when it received enough American fighters.
Currently, weapons of Soviet origin are still in service in many NATO member states, most notably Romania with 36 MiG-21 fighters. These MiG-21s have been modernized by Aerostar of Romania and Elbit of Israel, and are still able to meet the requirements of modern warfare. However, Romania has removed the more modern MiG-23 and MiG-29, but lacks spare parts.