Poland Plans to Phase Out its Su-22M in Favor of Armed UAVs

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Poland is considering replacing its Su-22 strike fighters with armed UAVs.

Poland is looking to replace its aging strike force, currently flying Russian built Sukhoi Su-22M with armed unmanned aerial vehicles. According to Waldemar Skrzypczak Poland’s Deputy Minister of Defense for military procurement, a future procurement of some 30 armed drone equipping three squadrons is being considered.

The arguments raised in favor for such decision are that the unmanned drones would be more affordable, particularly considering the logistical burden of maintaining the aging Russian fighters and lack of spares for such platforms. Drones could also operate on longer missions and the training of operators and support personnel will be cheaper, the Polish MOD argues.


Moreover, the deployment of unmanned aircraft, in support of NATO operations overseas or in support of other peacekeeping operations, would become more affordable and require smaller footprint and logistics, compared to similar missions performed by manned aircraft. However, the unmanned platform would require fielding large numbers of advanced, precision guided munitions which will also require adequate field support, technical training for the maintainers and operators.

Poland is likely to evaluate the Heron TP for its future armed UAV requirement. IAI is currently producing the Heron TP MALE UAS to equip a third Israel Air Force UAV squadron. Photo: IAI

By the year 2018 most of the Polish Air Force Su-22s will exceed their designed lifespan and require major investment  just to keep flying(1). Given an operational capability of the new drones by that time, and eying the versatile operability of the current Su-22s, the options are narrowed to 3-4 platforms – General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, IAI/Malat Heron TP and Elbit Systems Hermes 900. The Turkish TAI Anka could also be considered, although its payload is limited, compared to the other alternatives.

Operating armed drones will likely be more affordable, compared to manned aircraft. Shown here, a Polish Air Force ground crew arms a SU-22 at Swidwin. Photo: Bartosz Niewiadomski

The Polish acquisition could also be streamlined with other NATO procurement plans – France, Germany, Italy and the UK are currently considering the fielding of armed drones, and are evaluating both the MQ-9 and Heron TP for this role. Both are operated in ‘armed scout’ missions , carrying multiple weapons in different configurations. (although Israel never confirmed its UAVs are operating in such roles, foreign sources have widely reported on Israeli drones carrying and firing missiles.) Theoretically, Warsaw could ask for the MQ-9C Avenger but it is unlikely that Washington would clear the stealthy drone for export before it is inducted into US Air Force service in considerable numbers.

The Su-22 has been in service since 1984. Of the total 110 fighters delivered from Russia only 45 are still operational – 38 Su-22M-4K and seven Su-22UM-3k two seaters. Three squadrons currently operating the Fitters are 8th Tactical Squadron at Miroslawiec and the 40th and 7th Tactical Squadrons at Swidwin.

Poland currently has 45 Su-22 Fitter strike fightes, out of a total 110 transferred from Russia since 1984. By 2018 most of these strike fighters will be out of service. Photo: Chris Lofting

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  1. Poland needs to maintain a fleet of about 120-130 jet fighters to be up to date and strong. So it’s fine to retire their SU-22 and get UAV’s but they will still need to replace the planes with some thing newer. My ideal PolAir would comprise of outstanding air defense and also with 96 F-16’s and 34 F-35

  2. As other posters have said, Poland does have other fighters. Since they are now part of NATO, they can rely on support from allies. I hope they build up their cargo air fleet, there is always a need to move cargo rapidly around the world.

  3. Paranoia will destroy ya. No one is going to invade Poland, stop living in the past. Help the Poles by having them improve their economy by not wasting precious monies on unnecessary foreign military hardware.

    • LOL what paranoia? Another ignorant smart ass. First off Poland is changing its fleet like any other country. And please stop with improving economy. Polish economy is fine. And who the F…K are you to tell which equipment is necessary and which is not? Go troll somewhere else.

    • Poland was just recently directly threatened by Russia – which plainly said, that once the elements of NATO’s anti-missile defense shield (aimed against Iranian & North Korean threats) will be installed on Polish soil, Russia will be forced to hit them and to destroy them militarily. The Russian general even said how exactly they are going to do this: by using short distance precision ground-to-ground ballistic missiles, fired against these targets from the Kaliningrad area. This was a direct military threat against Poland, a NATO member! So, who is paranoid here?? — And, the Polish economy is currently in far better shape, than the economies of the most other Western European countries.

    • To begin with, the Polish Air Force does possess 48 top-of-the-line F-16 C/D Block 52+, which they are using in both roles, both as fighters and as fighter/bombers, in the ground-attack role. The pilots of the obsolete SU-22 jets do not need to feel disgruntled – those of them who will not be too old, and because of that ready for retirement, will then have all the possibilities & opportunities to after training become pilots of these future new heavy long-range / long endurance UAVs.

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