Created in the late '50s, the Su-7B fighter-bomber had poor takeoff and landing characteristics (TOLC) predestined by the chosen aerodynamic configuration with a sharply-swept wing. To improve the aircraft's TOLC was a priority task for the Design Bureau. Reducing the takeoff/landing run by using no more than takeoff boosters and a braking parachute failed to address the main problem - how to cut down the takeoff/landing speed - and brought but little relief.
Western designers were at that time exploring two major avenues for improving TOLC: lift engines and vectored-thrust engines on vertical/short takeoff and landing aircraft (V/STOL) and variable sweep wings. The Design Bureau of P.O. Sukhoi decided to look into both options using flying laboratories. The STOL version was developed on the Su-15 platform and was designated by the Design Bureau as the T-58VD. The variable sweep wing aircraft was to be developed on the Su-7B platform, N.G. Zyrin having been appointed head of project.
The work to design an experimental aircraft, given the manufacturer's index S-22I, had been in progress at the Design Bureau since 1963. In an attempt to reduce the scope of R&D work, it was decided to minimise the changes introduced into the baseline design. The wing panel hinge line was located behind the main landing gear hard point, which made it possible to keep the undercarriage design without any modification. With this arrangement in place, it was only possible to move the outer part of the panel, about half the wingspan in size when folded. At the same time, it brought about but a minimal shift of centre-of-gravity and focus when the wing was spread. The range of outer wing variable geometry was 63o to 30o. Moreover, further TOLC improvements were to be achieved through upgraded lift devices. Following wind tunnel studies on aerodynamic models and consultations with CAHI, the swivelling wing panels (SWP) were fitted with pull-out three-piece slats whereas the rear edge was fitted with a tilt flap on SWP and a pull-out flap on the fixed wing panel (FWP).
At the beginning of 1965, the aircraft's conceptual design successfully passed critical design review. Structural tests were performed on a specially made wing assembly, and production Su-7BM No 48-06 was made available for conversion into an experimental aircraft. The construction was completed in the summer of 1966, and on 2nd August 1966, the design bureau's chief pilot V.S. Ilyushin took S-22I up for its maiden flight; this way, S-22I became the USSR's first aeroplane to be fitted with a variable sweep wing. In the course of the manufacturer's testing, the wing hinge system was refined, and the TOLC and stability and control characteristics were measured in all basic flight modes, at different positions of wing sweep. The primary target of the work was achieved: it was verified that compared to the prototype, all other things being equal, the takeoff and landing speeds were reduced by 50-60kph. Following the modifications introduced in late 1966, the aircraft was submitted for testing to the NII-8 Scientific Research Institute (GNIKI) of Air Forces in the spring of 1967. Besides the plant's test pilots V.S. Ilyushin and Ye.S. Solovyov, the machine was tried out by S.A. Mikoyan, A.S. Devochkin, E.I. Knyazev, V.G. Ivanov, A.A. Manucharov, N.I. Korovushkin and G.A. Bayevsky. On 9th July 1967, the S-22I was shown among other new Soviet aircraft during the air display at Domodedovo, with the design bureau's test pilot Ye.K. Kukushev at the controls.
In April 1967, a report based on the findings of joint tests said that "the use of variable geometry wing on the Su-7BM significantly improves its subsonic APC,... significantly improves TOLC, ... reduces fuel consumption per kilometre, ... decreases flight Vmin, which ... improves flight safety and ... makes it possible to downgrade the weather minima for flying in AWC."
The successful test results made it possible for the leadership of Air Forces and MAI to propose that the aircraft be put into production. As a result, as early as November 1967, the government's resolution authorised development of a Su-7B-based version of the Su-17 fighter-bomber with variable sweep wings.
The Design Bureau produced a detailed design of the Su-17 (manufacturer's designation S-32) in 1967-68. Besides introduction of a variable sweep wing, the aircraft was to have some of its avionics replaced, an autopilot system installed, and weapons array beefed up with Kh-23 guided missiles and outboard cannons. To accommodate all that onboard required additional space so the aircraft acquired a fairing and had its cockpit canopy reengineered. The prototypes were built at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur production plant (at that time it was officially called DMZ, i.e., Dalnevostochny Mashinostroitelny Zavod, or Far Eastern Machine-Building Plant, director V.Ye. Kopylov), beginning in 1968. The first prototype, S32-1 (aka pre-production Su-17 No 85-01), was completed in early 1969, and in April was brought to Moscow to the Design Bureau. Its maiden flight was performed by the design bureau's test pilot Ye.K. Kukushev on 1st July 1969. Without any delay to speak of, it was subjected to a governmental testing programme. The governmental tests (SIT) were conducted on first three pre-production aeroplanes between July 1969 and May 1971. The SIT findings indicated that Su-17 for the most part met the specifications and recommended it for service.
The aircraft was in production between 1969 and 1973. The first production planes were delivered to the 4th CEC of Air Forces (Lipetsk) in the spring of 1970, and the first combat units to receive the Su-17 in October 1970 were the 523rd FBAR of 1st FEMD (Far Eastern military district), which was traditionally used to "break in" all new aircraft of the Sukhoi Design Bureau produced in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Their facilities were used in 1972-73 to conduct service testing of the plane. A small number of Su-17s converted into an export variant, the Su-17K (S-32), were exported to Egypt in 1973.
Work to develop variants of the Su-17 began at the Design Bureau in 1969, with technical design basis for a version under a work-in-progress designation Su-21 produced by April 1970. As an AL-7F-1 substitute, it was expected to receive a new uprated and fuel-efficient engine, the AL-21F-3 developed by the OKB design bureau of A.M. Lyulka. The new powerplant being lighter and smaller, it was expected that it would be possible, subject to the fuselage being reconfigured, to increase integral tankage and significantly extend the flight range. Moreover, it was planned to dramatically renew the aircraft avionics portfolio, this being seen by Sukhoi Design Bureau as a means for the Su-17 to "catch up" with its "rival," the MiG-23-based fighter-bomber version (MiG-23B) fielded by the design bureau of A.I. Mikoyan. But the fact was that the avionics developers were not in a position to supply the new hardware in time, so it was decided to keep the old Su-17 equipment configuration on the Su-17M, with equipment upgrades put off till later. At the end of the day, the proposals of Sukhoi Design Bureau were enacted by a joint decision of MAI and the Air Forces in June 1970, following which the Design Bureau started to develop an aircraft, which later became known under the official designation Su-17M (manufacturer's designation S-32M). Interestingly, nearly all later versions of the Su-17 were developed without an official imprimatur from the government, and even without an Air Forces aircraft PR, with just MIC decisions or joint decisions of MAI and the Air Forces giving blessing to the projects. That was the price that had to be paid for backdoor canvassing for orders under the protectionist policy put in place by MAI.
The prototypes were built at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant, with the assembly of the first pre-production aircraft completed in September 1971. In November 1971, it was knocked down and brought to Moscow by air, to the Design Bureau, where it was reassembled and tuned up; on 28th December 1971, the design bureau's test pilot Ye.S. Solovyov took it up for its maiden flight. Official testing of the aeroplane took place in the period 1972-73, with a preliminary opinion recommending the aircraft for operational service delivered in late 1972. The test findings confirmed a material improvement in the aircraft's APC for nearly all parameters: there was an increase in top speed, rate-of-climb, ceiling and flight range. The aircraft was recommended for operational service.
The only problems encountered in the course of SIT were due to an acute shortage of engines for prototype aeroplanes. The fact is that AL-21F-3 was undergoing testing at that juncture and was being prepared for production, with engines of this type specified for parallel installation on three new types of aircraft under development: the Su-24, Su-17M and MiG-23B. As a result, there was always a shortage of AL-21s for testing.
With the SIT completed, at the request of the military the Su-17M was in 1973-74 subjected to tests involving new models of guided rocketry:
- Kh-25 and Kh-29L missiles with laser homing (Su-17MKG suite);
- Kh-28 air-to-radar rocket (Su-17M-28 suite);
- K-60 air-to-air short-range missiles (R-60).
All those weapons systems were successfully tested on the Su-17M, which had been to a great extent facilitated by preliminary testing conducted by the Design Bureau using Su-7B type planes (the Su-7-28 and Su-7KG) in 1972-73. And all those prototype weapons systems were subsequently successfully introduced into service with the Air Forces, first of all on Su-17 type fighters-bombers.
In 1972, an export version of the aircraft was developed, the Su-20 (manufacturer's designation S-32MK). The first experimental prototype was built in Komsomolsk-on-Amur by the autumn of 1972 and brought to the Design Bureau's base at FRI. The first flight was performed on 15th December 1972 by the design bureau's test pilot A.N. Isakov. In the autumn of 1972, the aeroplane was shown to potential buyers, Air Force delegations from Egypt, Syria and Iraq, with agreements following shortly thereafter for deliveries of aircraft abroad. Su-20 tests were conducted at the same time as those of the Su-17M, and as early as March 1973, a preliminary conclusion was reached, giving the green light to export deliveries of the aircraft.
The Su-17M and Su-20 were in production at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant between 1972 and 1975. A government resolution of 11th November 1974 put the Su-17M fighter-bomber into service. Deliveries of Su-17M to the Air Forces began in 1973. The first to fly the aircraft, as tradition has it, were pilots of the 4th CEC of Air Forces, the combat pilots getting this chance first at the 523rd FBAR where the first production Su-17Ms were delivered in the autumn of 1973. Those were preceded by export deliveries of the Su-20. The Syrian Air Force was the first to receive the new aircraft in spring 1973, with the Su-20 arriving in Egypt shortly thereafter. The aircraft made its international debut in October 1973, when, alongside the Su-7BMK, Su-20s were deployed on a massive scale in combat operations during the so-called six-day Arab-Israeli war of 1973. This fact was commented upon by many aircraft observers in the West. Among the Warsaw Treaty Organization countries, Su-20s were in service with the Polish Air Force, in the inventory of the 7th reconnaissance/bomber regiment stationed in Ðowidze.
Work to produce the Su-17M2 became a second stage in the Su-17M upgrading. The go-ahead for the work was given by the MIC decision of February 1972, which provided for the aircraft to receive a new suite of attack and navigation equipment, incorporating ADO-17 and PBK-3-17s target seekers, the Fon laser range-finder, the attitude and heading reference system IKV and the short-range radio navigation and landing system RSBN-6S. The testing of the prototype suite of new equipment was conducted by the Design Bureau using a production Su-17 (S-32F) beginning in 1972.
The documentation for the production aircraft Su-17M2 (manufacturer's designation S-32M2) was sent to Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and by the summer of 1973 the building of the first prototype had been completed. In terms of design, the only difference from the Su-17M was in the fuselage nose section. The aircraft having been brought to Moscow, the manufacturer's tests started at the end of the year, with the prototype's first flight performed on 20th December 1973 by test pilot V.S. Ilyushin. The governmental testing was conducted under a tight schedule to be completed by November 1974. The test results revealed a substantial improvement in the accuracy of the navigation and attack equipment, with all the faults identified planned to be eliminated under an agreed schedule. The aircraft was recommended for field operation and for putting into service.
Su-17M2 was in production in Komsomolsk-on-Amur between 1974 and 1977. All that had been by that time tested and perfected on the Su-17M in terms of armaments (guided missiles Kh-25, Kh-28, Kh-29L and R-60) was put into production for the Su-17M2. Deliveries of aircraft to combat units began in the winter of 1975, the 806th FBAR of 14th AA (Ciscarpathian MD) being the first to be rearmed with the Su-17M2. On 3rd February 1976, the Su-17M2 fighter-bomber was put into service with the USSR Air Forces.
In 1974, in compliance with instructions of the Minister of Aircraft Industry, the Design Bureau developed a version called the Su-17M2D (S-32M2D) equipped with the R29-300 type engine, standard to the MiG-23. Compared to the baseline version, the aircraft had an enlarged tail section as the new engine was somewhat bigger than the AL-21F-3 in cross-section. A prototype Su-17M2D was built under an extremely tight schedule by the end of 1974. The aircraft's first flight was performed on 19th January 1975 by the design bureau's test pilot A.N. Isakov. The 1975 tests failed to discover any advantages of the Su-17M2D over its precursor; what is more, the larger size of the aircraft and the higher fuel consumption rate of the R-29 compared to the AL-21 resulted in a shorter flight range. The Air Forces did not want it so it was decided to assign the aircraft for export. This was based on the sound reasoning that aircraft produced for export should have as many standard parts and as few varieties as possible. The point is that the R29BS-300 installed on the Su-17M2D was similar in the use of basic assemblies to the R-29-300 and R29B-300 engines installed on MiG-23MS and MiG-23BN aircraft authorised for export.
The export version of the Su-17M2 received the official designation Su-22 (S-32M2K). The first pre-production aircraft were ready by the autumn of 1975, with tests conducted between February 1976 and May 1977; production took place between 1977 and 1978. The planes were delivered to Iraq, Peru, Libya, Yemen and Angola. The export version provided for an option to use R-13 type air-to-air missiles.
Design work to produce an operational trainer aircraft based on Su-17 had been in progress at the Design Bureau since 1971, but for some time the Air Forces high command had not shown any particular interest in the research, as the needs of the conversion air units were completely met with the Su-7U in the inventory. The work picked up tempo in 1973 when it became obvious that the line taken in Su-17 R&D had led to aircraft significantly different from the original Su-7B. In December 1973, a joint MAI/Air Forces decision addressed the issue.
Design of a two-seat trainer (work-in-progress name Su-19U, designation S-52U) was undertaken by the Design Bureau concurrently with work on a new version of the combat aircraft (Su-19, designation S-52), the idea being to use the same basic design solutions for both aircraft as much as possible. In terms of design, the principal innovation was to change the configuration of the fuselage nose section (FNS) together with the cockpit by tilting the FNS axis downwards. The change provided the pilot with a much better view in the forward and down directions as the complaint about a limited field of view from the cockpit had been among the material weaknesses of the Su-17 type aircraft. Moreover, to comply with the requirements of Air Forces, it was decided to give the two-seater a new standard ejection seat of K-36 type, the rest of the equipment configuration remaining identical to the Su-17M2. In 1974, the Su-17 two-seater was given an official name, the Su-17U (UM). Pre-production prototypes of the aircraft were built at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant in 1974-75. The first prototype of the aircraft was brought to Moscow, and on 15th August 1975 the design bureau's test pilot V.A. Krechetov performed its first flight. The manufacturer's tests were combined with SIT. By March 1976, a preliminary opinion was delivered, with the SIT programme completed in full by May 1977. The SIT tests indicated an inferior yaw performance of the aircraft at high angles of attack. To address the situation, the aircraft was given a higher tail fin and the fault was remedied.
For export deliveries, the designers developed a two-seat trainer variant, which was given the designation Su-22U (manufacturer's designation S-52UK). Like the Su-22, the two-seater was fitted with the R-29BS-300 engine rather than the AL-21F-3. The prototype was brought to Moscow in October 1976; the machine's first flight was performed on 22nd December 1976 by test pilot Ye.S. Solovyov. Interestingly, the trial flights of the first production Su-22U at the plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in this case took place even earlier than that of the prototype plane, in November 1976.
The two-seaters were in production between 1976 and 1982, with the first Su-17UM delivered for service in the summer of 1976. The export Su-22Us were supplied to all the countries (with the exception of Egypt) that had the Su-20 and Su-22 in service by that time.
In 1977, to make the two-seater's avionics compatible with Su-17M3 equipment, the Design Bureau developed an upgraded combat trainer aircraft, the Su-17UM3 (S-52UM3), which received a new suite of attack and navigation equipment. The prototype had been built by the spring of 1978, the aircraft's trial flight performed on 21st September 1978 by the design bureau's test pilot Yu.A. Yegorov. Official testing of the aeroplane was conducted in 1978-1981, and beginning in 1978, Su-17UM3 replaced the Su-17UM on the shop floor of the production plant. The export version of Su-17UM3, the Su-22UM3 (S-52UM) had been developed and was ready by 1982, with tests taking place in 1982-83. Production of the new version began in 1983, but it was soon decided to harmonise the powerplant on all versions of the Su-17. As a result, beginning in 1984, the export version of the two-seat trainer, designated Su-22UM3K, was for all intents and purposes identical to the Su-17UM3 designed for the USSR Air Forces. The aircraft was produced until the end of 1990.
Officially, work to produce the Su-17M3 (manufacturer's designation S-52) was initiated by the government's resolution of 11th November 1974. The aircraft was to have a better field of view from the cockpit, upgraded attack and navigation equipment (including the integrated Klyon-P laser range-finder and target-illuminator) and new armaments. The profile of the combat aircraft was identical to that of the two-seater Su-17UM, except for i) an enlarged dorsal spine aft of the cockpit, originally designed for the second seat of the trainer version but now accommodating an equipment bay and fuel tanks, and ii) 2 extra suspension points for R-60 type air-to-air rockets.
The prototype aeroplane, as before, was built at the production plant. The trial flight of the first Su-17M3 prototype was performed in Komsomolsk-on-Amur on 30th June 1976 by the plant's test pilot S.V. Pyrkov, following which the machine was sent to the Design Bureau in Moscow. The first flight of the Su-17M3 under the manufacturer's testing programme was performed on 17th August 1976 by the design bureau's test pilot V.A. Krechetov, with official tests of the aeroplane kicking off in September 1976. In June 1977, a preliminary opinion declared the Su-17M3 fit for field service, with a full-blown SIT programme completed in December 1978. The main problems identified in the course of work centred on the ASP-17B sight; otherwise, the aircraft met the specifications to a tee. The government resolution of 31st July 1981 put the Su-17M3 into service.
The export version of the aircraft, the Su-22M (S-52K), featured an R-29BS-300 engine and barebones equipment configuration, in line with the Su-17M2. The prototype was completed and it was flight tested at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur production plant in February 1977, following which it was sent to Moscow. The first flight on the Su-22M under the programme manufacturer's testing was performed on the 24th May 1977 by the design bureau's test pilot Ye.S. Solovyov; the official testing of the aeroplane took place in the period between September 1977 and February 1979, with a preliminary opinion giving it a clean bill of health delivered in April 1978. In 1982, an upgraded version of Su-22M equipped with Su-17M equipment was tested, the machine becoming known as the Su-22M3 (S-52MK).
The Su-17M3 and Su-22M were in series production at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant in 1976-1981 and 1978-1984 respectively. The Su-22M3 was produced in small numbers in 1982-83. Su-17M3-type planes accounted for the bulk of the Su-17 series, with nearly 1,000 Su-17M3/22M/22M3s produced. The first production Su-17M3 were assigned to 4th CEC of Air Forces (Lipetsk) in September 1977, with 274th FBAR of Air Forces in Moscow military district being the first combat unit to be reequipped with the Su-17M3 in late 1977. The Su-22M and Su-22M were exported to 9 countries: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Peru, (North and South) Yemen, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Hungary.
Work to produce a new version of the Su-17M had been under way at the Design Bureau as a pilot Su-21 project since 1975. At the stage of front end engineering the new variant was expected to feature quite an impressive line-up of innovations. Specifically, the aircraft was to feature an AL-31F engine as the AL-21F-3 substitute, new onboard cannons, a radically new attack and navigation system (A&NS) of the type tested on the MiG-23BK (MiG-27K) and an expanded array of weapons. The A&NS was expected to incorporate an Orlan laser/TV homing system (an upgrade of the Kaira LTVSTS) and an Orbita digital computer, with the weapons list further expanded with an option of using guided missiles and homing bombs with laser and TV targeting; the legacy NR-30 type cannons were to be replaced with the new 30mm TKB-687. Unfortunately, subsequent R&D witnessed the scope of the aircraft's innovations steadily dwindle.
Officially, the cue for the aircraft development was given by a MIC decision in February 1977. In its final version, the aircraft, which had been given the official designation Su-17M4 (manufacturer's designation S-54), was distinguished from the Su-17M3 by its fixed air intake, lower-capacity fuel tanks and a new design of ACS, with an air intake installed in the tail fin root. The most important variations were in the avionics configuration. The aircraft received a new laser station, the Klyon-54, with all onboard track and search equipment integrated in the A&NS controlled by an Orbita-20-22-type onboard computer. The lineup of aircraft external weapons was expanded with a Kh-29T TV-controlled guided missile.
Three prototypes of the aircraft were assembled at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant, the first arriving in Moscow in October 1979; the assembly of all systems and aircraft R&D was completed by the summer of 1980. The first flight on the Su-17M4 prototype was performed on 19th June 1980 by the design bureau's test pilot Yu.A. Yegorov. Official tests of the aeroplane were conducted between October 1980 and November 1982, with a preliminary opinion recommending the aircraft for field service delivered in late June 1981. Series production of the Su-17M4 was set up at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant in 1981 and went on with interruptions till 1988. Between 1983 and 1990 the Su-17M4 was produced along with its export variant, Su-22M4 (S-54K), with large-scale deliveries abroad. The first to receive the Su-17M4 in the Soviet Air Forces were pilots of the 4th CEC, the pilots of 274th FBAR MMD being the first to fly the Su-17M4 among combat units. On 30th September 1984, the Su-17M4 was put into service with the USSR Air Forces. Su-22M4s were exported to, and put into service in, 11 countries, including with the Air Forces of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany (GDR), Iraq, (North and South) Yemen, Syria, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Angola.
Su-17 type aircraft (Su-17, Su-17M3 and Su-17M4) were deployed by the USSR Armed Forces in combat operations with the 40th Army in Afghanistan in the period 1979-89, where the planes demonstrated superior combat performance and damage control. Throughout the entire period of hostilities, the Su-17M3/4s, along with the Su-25, served as the key tactical arm of the Air Forces, providing as they did support for troops directly over the battlefield in the whole spectrum of operational missions. In the light of Su-17 performance under field conditions, in order to improve the aircraft's damage control, the Design Bureau introduced the following modifications: the last runs of Su-17M4 and Su-17UM3 received armoured fuel tanks and extra facilities for release of ASO-2B type heat flares. The last Su-17M4s were taken off the active inventory of the Russian Federation's Air Forces in 1998.
The Su-17M4 was the last mass-produced version/variant of the Su-17 series. The Su-17M4's avionics systems showcased the latest achievements of the Design Bureau and those of the Soviet aircraft industry as a whole. This enabled the aircraft to dramatically improve its combat capabilities, putting it on a par with the best Western-made strike aeroplanes of the same type. This is attested by the fact that the Su-22M4 is still in the inventory of a number of countries, former Warsaw Pact members and current NATO members, such as Poland and the Czech Republic.
The Su-17 family was a great achievement for the Sukhoi Design Bureau. The aircraft underwent a lengthy process of progressive refinements since 1967. In terms of its combat performance, the Su-17 was one of the best combat aircraft of the USSR Air Forces in their history, which is explained by the effective original concept and pivotal design solutions which laid the groundwork for the aircraft family as early as during the development of Su-7 aircraft in the early '50s under the leadership of P.O. Sukhoi, and were creatively brought to fruition in the design of Su-17 under the leadership of chief designer N.G. Zyrin. Since November 1984, work on the Su-17 at the Design Bureau has been headed by A.A. Slezev.
Production of all Su-17 versions and variants was arranged at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant (1965-89 CEOs: V.Ye. Kopylov and V.N. Avramenko). A total of 2,867 planes were produced between 1969 and 1990, with 1,165 of them exported to 15 countries.