However, the Checkmate is the only potential fifth-generation combat aircraft and potential game-changer that Moscow has in the works.
While waiting until after division rival Sukhoi unveiled the Su-75, Mikoyan – which like Sukhoi is a division of the Russian state-owned United Aircraft Corporation – announced this week that it has started the design process for its own fifth-generation carrier-based fighter that would incorporate stealth technology. MiG announced that it would offer a prototype of the aircraft within a couple of years.
According to a report from Naval News on Thursday, citing a source in Russia’s military-industrial complex, the company is currently conducting computer modeling of the aircraft, which will possibly feature vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) while the still-unnamed aircraft could be as large as the MiG-35. The fighter will also be developed to operate alongside an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which could weigh more than ten tons and would feature a “flying wing” design.
“The UAV is to be used in conjunction with a fighter as part of the ‘faithful wingman’ concept,” the source added. “Its functions are either refueling or joint strikes.”
At last week’s MAKS 2021 Air Show, MiG had presented a scale model of the fifth generation carrier fighter. It provided a few details on what can be expected with the still-to-be-deployed prototype. Based on the mock-up, the aircraft will be a twin-engine with a reduced radar visibility. Images of the carrier fighter and other models of proposed aircraft have been shared on social media.
It has been suggested that the Su-75 could operate from carriers, but given that Russia has faced numerous problems in developing a true carrier-based fighter aircraft, it could be hedging its bets with more than one option. Already the MiG-29K and Su-33 have been beset with a host of problems – even as Moscow has sought to supply the MiG-28K to India for use on the Indian Navy’s next carrier.
Russia has also looked to improve the fifth-generation Su-57 for use on carriers, but that idea hasn’t moved forward.
A question could be asked as to why Russia has gone to such great lengths to develop a new carrier-based combat aircraft when its navy has just one carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, which was damaged in a fire while undergoing a refit. The vessel is years behind schedule now, and likely won’t even embark on sea trials until next year. While it could serve for another two decades once the repairs and upgrades are completed, Russia has struggled to fund all of its ambitious projects and now it seems as if Moscow is going down the rabbit hole trying to build a carrier-based aircraft for its one and only antiquated flat top.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.