World War 3: Warsaw Pact is the latest offering from Battlefront miniature's Cold war era miniatures game, bringing the armies of the historical counterpart to NATO to the tabletop.
Today, we cover an extremely well documented and long-lived aircraft which is still in operation in third world militaries today, the Sukhoi Su-17/22 multi-role fighter bomber, a rugged single pilot machine which was widely exported to many air forces around the world, and was famously involved in many major conflicts of the era.
Overview of the warsaw pact articles
This series of articles by Blitzminis covers not only the new units appearing in the various warsaw pact forces, but also battle reports using the new book, as well as hobby articles on how to paint up the new plastic kits when they release!
The Sukhoi SU-17/22
The Su-17 was a development of the ageing SU-7 (Fitter A), another rugged design that was approaching obselence due to it's short range, payload and the need for a long runway, which the soviets regarded as a liability as it was unsuitable for short-field operations.
Regarded as the first variable wing design for the Soviet union, this daring approach enabled Sukhoi design bureau to make minimal changes to the SU-7 airframe while also enabling it to carry a higher payload and enjoy a comparatively shorter runway lift-off.
Flight tested in 1966 by the illustrious Vladimir Ilyushin, the design showed drastic improvements in handling over the SU-7, but without any significant changes to it's flight range due to the swing-wing mechanisms taking up fuel and internal space. Designated as the Fitter B by NATO observers, the Su-17 was approved for production in 1967, and replaced the Su-7 entirely by 1973 as the mainline fighter bomber of the Soviet Air Force (VVS).
Further improvements were made to the airframe to increase the short endurance of the Su-17, resulting in an engine overhaul and various avionics improvements as time went on. By the development of the Su-17M Fitter-C, the airframe had twice the range and payload of its predecessor. Finally, the VVS had a tactical strike aircraft which could be used in support of it's ground forces.
The Fitter was exported to all Warsaw Pact nations, as well as much of the Middle East, notably in Iraq (which received a batch of Su-17s as early as 1973!), Syria, Libya and Iran.
The East German Air Forces were equipped with the latest models of the plane (SU-22M4) as they were regarded as frontline forces under Soviet VVS control and kept in a high state of readiness. Polish and Czech airforces retained sizable numbers of the SU-22, the export model frame, between 1983-84 with Poland retaining use of the aircraft till as late as 2016.
*Editor's note: Amusingly, the model provided by Battlefront is not the export model commonly used by the Warsaw Pact. We can only assume that the airframes were early models in the initial export batch!
Service in the Cold War
The Su-17 underwent it's baptism of fire in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Initially used in it's intended role of a ground support bomber, the high altitudes and thinner atmosphere of the terrain revealed some serious shortcomings of the airframe. Additionally, US-supplied MANPADS such as the Stinger posed a serious threat to the Su-17, resulting in a flare system being retroactively installed to curtail AA threats by Mujahedeen forces. The Su-17 was regarded as being fairly survivable by the later stages of the campaign, but was relegated to high altitude bombing runs with cluster munitions, mine laying and Fuel-air explosive bombs as the SU-25 Frogfoot took over the close support role. Some 29 aircraft were lost over the course of the war, a testament to the ruggedness of it's design.
Conflicts against peer level opponents, however, showed that the Fitter was a mediocre dogfighter at best. 2 Libyan Fitters were shot down over the famous Gulf of Sidra incident in a head-to-head match against US F-14 Tomcats at close range.
Over in Syria, the Su-17/22 was used in both the Yom Kippur and later, 1982 Lebanon war as a ground attack craft, suffering losses to Israeli air defences. Both Iraq and Iran also made extensive use of Su-17s in the tumultous 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, with the Iranians once again coming out on top with the F-14 Tomcat.
For all intents and purposes, the Warsaw Pact Fitter is treated as a homogenous entry across the East German, Polish and Czech forces. Having better-trained pilots (an oddity since Sovet pilots of the era were clearly just as good), the Su-22 is a well-armed strike aircraft, specialising in bombing runs with the 240mm S-24 rockets. Able to semi-reliably bracket dug in troops or tanks in the open with rocket runs, the Fitter is a decent threat with a full flight of 6 planes for just 9 points. Although fragile with just a 5+ save, NATO players will be heavily punished for not bringing sufficient AA defences against this menace from the skies. At just less than half the cost of the much more survivable SU-25 frogfoot, expect to see the Su-22 as an auto-include with most Warsaw pact forces, especially when paired with Hinds as the ultimate answer to NATO heavy armor, something that Warsaw pact players traditionally have problems with.
The option also exists to equip Fitters with the same KH-25 ATGM as the frogfoot, but this bumps the cost of the flight up massively at 1.5 points per plane, while still retaining the terrible survivability. Unless you have points to spare, it might be better to rely on the old fallback of the Frogfoot.
In soviet service
Editor's note: The ROF on the Soviet Su-17's 30mm cannon has been confirmed to be an error by Wayne and will be addressed in upcoming FAQs.
Clocking it at just 8 points for a full flight, the Soviet Su-17 brings the power of the people to soviet players. However, sporting a terrible skill of 5+, expect to basically never pull off bombing runs with it's signature weapon. Instead, the Soviet Fitter should be used to strafe soft targets such as enemy AA, artillery and other backline units (or in a pinch, attack helicopters) with cannon fire to clear the way for other Russian forces, particularly Afghansty hinds, which will thank their VVS buddies.
2 , 4 or 6?
As the cheapest air unit available to both Warsaw Pact and Soviet forces, the perennial question of whether to take the maximum sized flight rears it's head once again. As most veteran players will know, strike aircraft in Team Yankee is something of a crap shoot, as they either perform brilliantly or fall flat thanks to the nature of close air support in the game. However, being such a cheap addition, the Fitter can (in this humble writer's opinion)and should be taken as full flights to take advantage of abundant Soviet air support to it's logical conclusion. Solo flights of 2 can be considered as a tech inclusion in lists to deter players from not placing AA units during deployment, but generally speaking its always better to make your threats count when they arrive on the battlefield. The primary threat to Fitters will be SPAAG such as Gepards, Yorks and Rapiers, so it is advisable to at least try to soften the blow with supporting artillery fire or a hind strike to pave the way for a successful rocket run.
The final Fitter in West German Luftwaffe hands
We hope you enjoyed this article, do look forwards to our next article as we review the T-72B kit and have our master painters Daryl and JeroM1e have a go at painting it up for war!
About the Writer:
Eddie is an avid painter who also enjoys anime, studying military history and hopes that Girls Und Panzer will come true one day so that everyone can resolve their differences with tank Airsoft.