Russia’s newly unveiled fifth-generation fighter could be set to go on a world tour of sorts, as Rostec has touted the Checkmate, or sometimes called the Su-75, to potential international buyers as an affordable alternative to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The fighter, which was unveiled at the MAKS-2021 International Air Show outside of Moscow last month, is reported to be in high demand on the world’s arms market, said the head of the aircraft’s manufacturer.
“There is no need to look for a geopolitical aspect in our new light tactical aircraft,” Sergei Chemezov, the director-general of the state-owned Rostec, told The Wall Street Journal on Monday. “The true reason is much simpler: the aircraft of this type are really in high demand on the world arms market.”
The newspaper of record reported that the Light-Tactical Aircraft Checkmate, another name for the Russian fifth-generation fighter, which is the world’s second single-engine combat fighter to incorporate the most sophisticated radar-evasion and command system after the F-35, could soon be offered to such hardware clients as the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, India, and Vietnam – all of which have U.S. security ties. The UAE has also sought to purchase the F-35, despite protests from U.S. lawmakers, which have claimed it is in violation of the U.S. directives to ensure Israel maintains a military edge over its Arab neighbors.
Chemezo has said the Checkmate could become a “workhorse solution” for those countries that cannot purchase the U.S. F-35, which has a price tag of around $120 million per aircraft (Note: different sources compute this differently). By comparison, Rostec has offered the Checkmate as a lower-cost alternative that will cost just $30 million per plane.
Affordable Stealth Aircraft
With a cost that is one-fourth the price, the question could be asked how the aircraft actually compares with the F-35. However, Rostec has maintained that its aircraft isn’t a bargain-basement offering by any means. Instead, the company has touted the fact that the Russian single-engine fighter is still based on proven stealth technology, while it is also outfitted with an inboard compartment for airborne air-to-air and air-to-surface armaments.
The Checkmate can carry a payload of upwards of seven tonnes, and can reportedly strike up to six targets at the same time. As reported by Tass, the Checkmate will also be capable of flying at Mach 1.8 (1.8 times the speed of sound), while it will have an operating range of 3,000 kilometers. The aircraft is expected to be outfitted with a highly efficient powerplant.
When and If?
Russian media has reported that Rostec has announced that the fighter will take to the skies by 2023, while the Russian defense contractor has said the aircraft would begin serial production beginning in 2026. Given that the fighter prototype was just unveiled last week, the timeline for actually getting the Checkmate into the air and into production seems ambitious.
Moscow has a tendency to introduce hardware that is poised to be a game-changer, but then it takes years for the radically advanced hardware to actually enter service. Russia has been slow to adopt the Sukhoi Su-57, so while the Checkmate aircraft could be seen as an affordable alternative to the American F-35, it has to actually get off the ground and then be produced in numbers that matter.
Even as Russia has announced it could build upwards of 300 units of the single-engine light tactical fights within the next fifteen years, it isn’t clear that it has the resources to make it happen. Of course, that number was based on hopes that foreign clients would step up – and essentially subsidize the production and even developmental costs. Unless that happens, the Checkmate could find itself pushed into a corner with few moves to actually make.
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.