May 4, 2014:
Poland’s efforts to replace all its Cold War era Russian warplanes have run into a snag. It’s all about money shortages and the fact that their elderly Russian Su-22 fighter-bombers are so effective, sturdy and cheap to operate. Back in 2002 Poland decided to adopt the American F-16C and the first arrived in 2006. The last Polish MiG-21s were gone by 2004 and the 31 remaining MiG-29s are expected to age out by the end of the decade. Poland received 110 Su-22s between 1984-8 and had planned to phase them out as well. In 2012 it was decided to replace the remaining 32 Su-22s with UAVs, but there none available that could do the job. Rather than having the more expensive F-16 handle ground support, 18 Su-22s will remain in service for about a decade until Poland can get UAVs that can handle this sort of thing. The 18 Su-22s selected for continued service are the ones in the best shape and with the most upgrades. These can handle smart bombs and Poland has plenty of experienced Su-22 pilots and ground crews.
The 16 ton Su-22 is the export version of the Russian Su-17, which is basically a swing wing version of the older Su-7 ground attack aircraft. Armed with two 30mm autocannon it can carry four tons of bombs. Originally rated for 2,000 flight hours and 20 years maximum service, this has been extended largely through the efforts of Polish firms that specialize in refurbishing and upgrading Russian designed warplanes. The Su-22 has turned out to be reliable, cheap to maintain and operate and easy to refurb and upgrade.