An Su-20 (left) next to an older, similar Su-7BKL.
Seeking to improve low-speed and take-off/landing performance of the Su-7B fighter-bomber, in 1963 the Sukhoi OKB with input from TsAGI created a variable-sweep wing technology demonstrator. The Su-7IG (internal designation S-22I, NATO designation "Fitter-B"), converted from a production Su-7BM, had fixed inner portions of the wing with movable outer segments which could be swept to 28°, 45°, or 62°.
In a move to eliminate single-engine strike aircraft from its inventory, the Russian Air Force retired its last Su-17M4 along with its fleet of MiG-23/27s in 1998.
The Soviets supplied the communist government of Angola with 12 Su-20Ms in 1982 or 1983, which formed the basis of the 15th FS. The squadron suffered a swift loss of at least six aircraft - most in mishaps - by 1985, and three more by 1988, and had only two aircraft left when it was reinforced with another Soviet batch of 14 Su-22M-4Ks and two Su-22UM-3Ks in 1989-90 (incorporated into the 26th Air Regiment, based in Moçâmedes). A second shipment from Belarus in 1999 consisted of two Su-22UBs and four Su-22Ms, and a third one from Slovakia in 1999-2001 consisted of 10 Su-22M-4s and one Su-22UM-3K.
These aircraft saw heavy use in the war against UNITA. From the aforementioned losses, which can not be classified as mishaps or combat attrition, only an Su-20M, serialled C510 was reportedly downed in 1987 and a better-documented case occurred on 6 November 1994 when an Su-22 based at Catumbela was shot down by a SAM fired by UNITA during a raid against Huambo. The pilot managed to eject and flee naked after stripping off his flight suit.
Iraqi Su-22M aircraft in a hangar damaged by Coalition air strikes during Operation Desert Storm.
From 22 September 1980 to 20 August 1988, during the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq used Su-17 export versions (Su-20 and Su-22) alongside older Su-7s. They were mostly used in ground-attack and close air support roles. Iranian F-14s shot down 21 Su-20/-22s, that have been confirmed by western sources. 18 Su-20/-22s were also shot down by Iranian McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs. and three by Iranian Northrop F-5s.
Official Iraqi accounts show no loss of Su-20 aircraft throughout the war against the Kurds and Iran. 20 Su-22M2s, two Su-22M3s and seven Su-22M4s were lost during the war with Iran, the majority to anti-aircraft fire sustained during low level bombing raids against the Iranian front lines.
In 1991, during the Gulf War, Iraqi Su-22s saw limited active service because the Iraqi regime distrusted the Iraqi Air Force (IQAF). On 7 February 1991, two Su-20/22s and one Su-7 were shot down by USAFF-15C Eagles using AIM-7 air-to-air missiles when the IQAF was moving its aircraft to Iran. Many more were destroyed on the ground by coalition air forces or evacuated to Iran and were never returned.
On 8 October 1987, in the aftermath of the Chadian-Libyan conflict, a Su-22MK was shot down by a FIM-92A fired by Chadian forces. The pilot, Capt. Diya al-Din, ejected and was captured. He was later granted political asylum by the French government. During the recovery operation, a Libyan MiG-23MS was shot down by a FIM-92A.
A Libyan Su-22 crashed near Benghazi on 23 February 2011. The crew members, Captain Attia Abdel Salem al Abdali and his number two, Ali Omar Gaddafi, were ordered to bomb the city in response to the Libyan Civil War. They refused, bailing out of the aircraft and parachuting to the ground. Su-22s were heavily used by the Libyan loyalist forces against the insurgent forces from mid February up to mid March 2011, when the international mission started and the no fly zone was imposed. Among other missions, Su-22s also attacked Anti-Gaddafi positions in Bin Jawad in early March 2011 as government forces retook the town.
One Libyan Air Force Su-22 was destroyed on the ground by a Belgian Air Force F-16AM on 27 March.
Sukhoi Su-22 "Fitter F" aircraft of the Peruvian Air Force.
Peru was the only export customer of the type in the Americas. In 1980 a Peruvian Su-22 intercepted an alleged UFO over Arequipa.
On 24 April 1992, Peruvian "Fitters" attacked a U.S. Air ForceLockheed C-130H Hercules of the 310th Airlift Squadron which was intercepted at sea, west of Lima, injuring six of the 14 crew members. Crew member Joseph C. Beard Jr., was killed, when he was blown from the cabin at 18,500 feet, and crew member Ronald Hetzel sustained severe injuries, with his chest blown open and his jugular vein severed. The incident caused an almost year-long interruption to the US anti-drug Air Bridge Denial Program and the establishment of a Joint Air Operation Center at Howard Air Force Base in Panama.
On 10 February 1995, two Ecuadorian Air ForceMirage F1JAs, piloted by Maj. R. Banderas and Capt. C. Uzcátegui, were directed over five targets approaching the disputed Cenepa valley. After making visual contact, the Mirages fired their missiles, claiming two Peruvian Su-22A Fitter F shot down, while a Kfir claimed a further A-37B Dragonfly. Peru, however, denied that the two Su-22A Fitter F were shot down by Mirages, stating that one was struck by Ecuadorian anti-aircraft artillery during a low flying ground-attack mission, and the second because of an engine fire.
The Su-22s flew 45 sorties into the combat zone. A 20-strong force of "Fitters" was also set up at El Pato as a retaliatory force should Ecuador decide to attack the coastal port.
On 19 August 2003, a Polish Air Force Su-22M4K was accidentally shot down by friendly fire during an exercise by a Polish 2K12 Kub battery. The aircraft was flying 21 km from the coast over the Baltic Sea near Ustka. The pilot ejected and was rescued after two hours in the water. He later died in a C-295M crash on 23 January 2008. As of 2012, Poland was planning to replace its Su-22s with three squadrons of drones.
As of 2014 the Polish Air Force was planning to retain the Su-22s in service. It is hoped that this decision will have a positive impact on Polish industry, as the WZL nr 2 repair facility in Bydgoszcz will maintain the remaining aircraft under contract to the Air Force. The decision would also allow the Air Force to retain the well-trained ground crews and pilots, currently operating the machines. The Poles consider the Su-22 easier to maintain and repair than the other main combat aircraft types currently in Polish service (mainly the MiG-29 and the F-16). They also suffer from fewer malfunctions and other problems (high, 70-75% non-error index). It is also the only plane in Polish inventory equipped for electronic intelligence, warfare, and support of ground systems. The Polish Air Force has retained a large stockpile of air-to-ground weapons for use with the Su-22. By some estimates, the cost of destroying these resources would be higher than the projected cost of continuing Su-22 operations. It was decided that starting from 2015, only 12 Su-22M4 and 4-6 Su-22UM3K out of 32 remaining would undergo a refit, increasing their lifespan for another ten years. For economical reasons the aircraft are not modernized, apart from fitting an additional radio RS-6113-2 C2M with a blade antenna on the top, but they receive a new grey multishade camouflage, similar to other Polish aircraft.
The Syrian Air Force used Su-20/-22s to attack Israeli forces in the Yom Kippur War and 1982 Lebanon War. Several Su-20/-22s were shot down by the Israeli Air Force. From mid-2012, in the Syrian Civil War, Syrian Air Force Su-22s have been involved in combat operations against Syrian insurgents. Like other SyAAF fixed wing aircraft, videos showed Su-22s using unguided munitions, mostly general-purpose bombs, cluster bombs and incendiary bombs and unguided rockets. Attack tactics were low to medium-altitude flat bombing runs with pull up after rocketing or bombing, with decoy flares fired for self-defense. As of the end of 2015, the SyAAF Su-22s suffered a limited number of losses compared to the SyAAF MiG-21 and MiG-23 during the same period. The first confirmed loss of a SyAAF Su-22 was recorded on 14 February 2013, when rebel forces shot it down using a MANPADS. On 18 June 2017, a US F/A-18E Super Hornet engaged and shot down a SyAAF Su-22 for dropping munitions on US-backed forces. According to the wingman of the Super Hornet that made the kill, the Syrian pilot was able to eject and was later returned to the Syrian government. On 24 July 2018, a SyAAF Su-22 which entered Israeli air space was shot down by two Israeli Patriot missiles.
On 11 August 2009, Yemeni armed forces started Operation Scorched Earth in northern Yemen to fight the Houthis.
The Yemeni Air Force backed the army with air raids on rebel-held positions. On 5 October 2009, a Yemeni Su-22 crashed when it was flying in formation with another aircraft, on the way back from a mission. The rebels claimed to have shot it down, while Yemeni armed forces denied the claim and maintained that it had crashed due to technical problems.
Earlier on 2 October, the Yemeni revolutionaries said they shot down a "MiG-21" while again the military insisted technical problems caused the crash.
On 8 November, a third Yemeni fighter aircraft reported to be a Sukhoi was destroyed. Again the military claimed it crashed due to technical problems, while the Yemeni revolutionaries claimed they shot it down. The pilot ejected and was recovered by friendly forces. The Yemeni Air force once again used Sukhoi aircraft during the Arab Spring uprising. On 28 September 2011, a Yemeni Air Force Su-22 was shot down by tribesmen opposed to the rule of President Saleh. The government confirmed that rebels were responsible for the shoot-down, and that the pilot had been captured. On February 19, 2013 a Yemen Su-22 on a training mission crashed for unknown reasons into Sana'a, killing 12 civilians. On May 13, 2013 another Yemen Su-22 on a training mission crashed in Sana'a, killing the pilot.
Polish Su-22M4 in the markings of 7th Tactical Sqn.
Limited production run based on the longer fuselage of the two-seat Su-7U trainer, with bulged dorsal spine for extra fuel (4,550 L/1,200 U.S. gal total). Retained Su-7s Lyulka AL-7F-1 engine. Manufactured 1969-1973.
export version of the Su-17 for Egyptian Air Force
Su-17M (S-32M, "Fitter-C")
First major production version, introduced Lyulka AL-21F-3 engine, twin pitot tubes, new navigation and attack computer (retaining Su-7BMK's SRD-5M ranging radar), angle of attack vane, single brake parachute. Variable-position intake centerbody providing maximum speed of Mach 2.1. First flight: 28 December 1971 with V. S. Soloviev at the controls. The export version was designated Su-20, first flying 15 December 1972 with A. N. Isakov at the controls. Manufactured 1972-1975, entered service in 1973. Exported to Egypt, Poland, and Syria.
Small number of Su-17M aircraft equipped to carry reconnaissance pods. Equivalent export version designated Su-20R.
Su-17M2 (S-32M2, "Fitter-D")
Nose extended 38 cm (15 in), deleting ranging radar and 'drooping' to improve pilot visibility. Fon-1400 laser rangefinder/marked-target seeker (LRMTS). ASP-17 and PBK-3-17s aiming avionics. RSBN-6S short-range navigation and instrument landing system. Undernose fairing for DISS-7 Doppler navigation radar. First flight: 20 December 1973 with V. S. Ilyushin at the controls. Manufactured 1974-1977, entered service in 1975.
Test-fit of the Tumansky/Khatchaturov R-29BS-300 engine (shared with some MiG-23s), with 112.7 kN (25,335 lbf) afterburning thrust, in a bulged rear fuselage. Due to lack of performance advantage and decreased range due to higher fuel consumption, it was decided to offer this engine as an export version only. First flight: 31 January 1975 with A. N. Isakov at the controls. The export variant was designated Su-22 (factory code S-32M2K, NATO "Fitter-F"), manufactured 1977-1978.
Su-17UM (S-52U, "Fitter-E")
First two-seat trainer version, based on the Su-17M2, but with a different, deeper fuselage with windscreen moved forward; same length as the original Su-17M. Internal fuel capacity reduced and port cannon deleted, but retained full avionics and armament. First flight: 15 August 1975 with V. A. Krechetov at the controls. Test flights revealed longitudinal instability at high angles of attack which was remedied by enlarging the tail fin. Export version with the R-29 engine was designated Su-22U. Manufactured 1976-1978, entered service in 1976.
Su-17M3 (S-52, "Fitter-H")
Based on the revised airframe of the Su-17UM, but with an avionics bay and an additional fuel tank in place of the rear cockpit, increasing the internal fuel capacity to 4850 l (1,280 U.S. gal). Doppler radar moved internally, removing the fairing. "Klen-P" laser rangefinder/target designator. A launch rail for K-13 (AA-2 "Atoll") or R-60 (AA-8 "Aphid") was added between the two existing pylons on each wing. First flight: 30 June 1976 with V. A. Krechetov at the controls. Export version with the R-29 engine and downgraded avionics (equivalent to Su-17M2) was designated Su-22M (factory designation S-52K, NATO "Fitter-J") and first flew on 24 May 1977 with E. S. Soloviev at the controls. An export version with Su-17M3 avionics was designated Su-22M3 (factory S-52MK). Su-17 manufactured 1976-1981, Su-22Ms were manufactured 1978-1984. Su-17M/Su-22M/Su-22M3 was the most numerous variant with almost 1,000 built.
The initial trainer version with the same avionics suite as the Su-17M. The export version was designated Su-22UM3 with R-29 engine, and Su-22UM3K with the AL-21 engine. Manufactured 1978-1982.
Su-17UM3 (S-52UM3, "Fitter-G")
Revised trainer with the same avionics suite as the Su-17M3. First flight: 21 September 1978 with Yu. A. Yegorov at the controls. The export version was designated Su-22UM3 with R-29 engine, and Su-22UM3K with the AL-21 engine. Manufactured 1978-1982.
Polish Su-22M4 in markings of 7th Tactical Sqn.
Su-17M4 (S-54, "Fitter-K")
Final production version with considerably upgraded avionics, including RSDN navigation (similar to LORAN), beacon navigation, inertial navigation, a more powerful (Klyon) "K-54" laser rangefinder, radio compass, and SPO-15LE ("Sirena") radar-warning system. Additional fuselage inlets (including ram-air inlet at the base of the fin) to improve engine cooling airflow, fixed air intake shock cone. Many aircraft were equipped for the use of TV-guided missiles and BA-58 Vjuga pod for anti-radiation missiles. AL-21F-3 engine. Export version was designated Su-22M4 (factory S-54K). First flight: 19 June 1980 with Yu. A. Yegorov at the controls. Su-17M4 was manufactured 1981-1988, Su-22M4 was manufactured 1983-1990.
The initial export version of the Su-17M, (S-32MK).
A Russian-French upgrade package offered for existing aircraft with modernized cockpit, HOTAS, improved avionic systems, and laser rangefinder replaced by Phazotron/Thomson-CSF radar.
The S-52U two-seat combat-trainer, export version of the Su-17UM, with a completely re-designed nose housing the tandem cockpits for student and instructor.
Gun pods such as the GSh-23 based UPK-23 and SPPU-22 were utilized by the Su-17, Su-20, and Su-22. The SPPU-22 ground attack variant featured 30 degrees of traverse.
An experimental version of the Su-20 was built with fixed wings attached to an Su-17M fuselage, in an effort to increase Payload/range performance by eliminating the weight of the wing sweep system. Good results were obtained in flight tests in 1973 but further development was cancelled.
Tactical Reconnaissance versions of all variants could be made by fitting the KKR (Kombinirovanny Konteiner Razvedy - combined reconnaissance pod) on the centre-line pylon.
Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC-AF) operates the Iranian Su-22 fleet and not the regular military. The IRGC aircraft have military registration marks that start with 15-  Iran received 40 Su-20/22s from Iraq in 1991. While non-operational for several years, in 2013 Iran started an overhauling program. In March 2015, it seems that some of the IRGC-AF Su-22 were transferred to the Syrian Arab Air Force to fight in the ongoing Civil War. Iran currently possesses 30 operational Su-22s. In July 2018 Iranian military technical experts successfully overhauled and modernized 10 Su-22s, giving them the ability to carry smart bombs, fire precision-guided munitions, transfer data from UAVs, and in the near future the system necessary to utilize air-launched cruise missiles with a range of 1500 km will be installed on them.
Luftwaffe. A number of Su-22 aircraft were inherited from East Germany, although these did not serve in the Luftwaffe, but some of them were painted with a Luftwaffe color scheme for test and evaluation. All of them have been decommissioned.
Iraqi Air Force. The Iraqi Air Force received a large number of Su-22 models, of which 40 were impounded by Iran after having escaped coalition air campaign in 1991. None survived the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States.
The Libyan Air Force operated as many as 90 Su-22 aircraft, with around 40 Su-22M3 and Su-22UM3K aircraft in service at the beginning of 2011 when the Libyan uprising started. During the Libyan Civil War, the Gaddafi regime used Su-22s in combat operations.
Peruvian Air Force. The Peruvian Air Force acquired 32 Sukhoi Su-22A Fitter F, 4 Su-22U Fitter E, 16 Su-22M Fitter J and 3 Su-22UM Fitter G aircraft between 1977 and 1980. Retired in 2006, 11 remain in reserve status.
Russian Air Force. The Russian Air Force inherited Soviet Su-17 aircraft, but has withdrawn the type from service. At least one example remains flying as a chase aircraft operated by Sukhoi at their KnAAPO facility.
Slovak Air Force. The Slovak Air and Air Defense Forces inherited 18 Su-22M4 and three Su-22UM3K aircraft from Czechoslovakia in 1993. In 1999, six Su-22M4 and in 2001, four Su-22M4 and one Su-22UM3K aircraft were sold to Angola while rest of the fleet was grounded and is being used as museum exhibits and as teaching aid in flight schools.