Exercise Clean Hunter 04, Büchel, Germany

16 June 2004


Among the annual large scale NATO air exercises is Clean Hunter. The aim of this live-flying exercise is to train for multi-national operations by diverse types of aircraft from a large number of nations. Simultaneously, it is an opportunity for HQ AIRNORTH and the subordinate CAOC's (Combined Air Operations Centers) to plan for operations of this scale. The exercise area includes most of North-Western Europe stretching from the UK into Poland and from Denmark into France. 

Clean Hunter 2004, CN 04 for short, did not only involve aircraft form the classic NATO allies, but also saw participants from the alliance's newest members, the Czech Republic and Poland. The Polish contigent was made up of five Sukhoi Su.22M-4 fighter bombers from 40.Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego based at Swidnin and took up residence at Büchel Air Base in Germany.

40.Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego, 40 ELT for short, was born out of 40 PLM-B (Pułk Lotnictwa Myśliwsko-Bombowego or Fighter-bomber Aviation Regiment) of Warsaw Pact days.


The Su.22M-4, known to NATO as the Fitter-K during the years of the Cold War, was once the mainstay of the fighter bomber units of the Warsaw Pact. Nowadays, the type is part of the alliance it once was once opposing. Indeed, 40 ELT is now part of NATO's Rapid Reaction Force, hence the unit's participation in CN 04.

Poland is one of the few remaining countries still flying the Su.22. The Russian Air Force itself retired the very similar Su.17 some 10 years ago. Countries like the Czech Republic, Slowakia and Hungary  have ceased flying  this type, with Bulgaria about to follow suit. 

This leaves Poland's Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Powietrznej, which plans to fly some 48 of these mighty jets alongside Russian built MiG.29's and US supplied F-16's until 2012.

The remaining Su.22M-4K single seat fighter bombers, supprted by a small number of Su.22UM-3K two seaters, are to be extensively modernised in order to remain viable into the next decade. 

After that, the Polish Air Force may or may not elect to replace them with a Western type of aircraft. Until then, the Su.22M-4 will remain the Polish Air Force dedicated heavy fighter bomber.


Thanks go to Büchel Air Base's PR department for providing the opportunity to photograph the Su.22's.

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink