Russia has placed a lot of hopes on its new Su-75 stealth fighter. It was meant to serve a market for a cheaper 5th generation fighter and was to be built from money that would come in from new orders placed. However, after the war in Ukraine, not many nations are lining up to buy Moscow’s gear: Last summer, Russia unveiled its Sukhoi Su-75 “Checkmate” at the 2021 MAKS air show. The Checkmate featured was just a static mockup incapable of flying, but still, it garnered plenty of attention. Russian President Vladimir Putin was in attendance, amplifying the importance of the unveiling. Western journalists, who were restricted from taking pictures, elbowed their way to the front of the line, hoping for a glimpse at the futuristic Russian fighter. What they saw inspired headlines and informed the West of Russia’s aerospace ambitions.
A Game of Chess, and Exports
The Checkmate was crafted, very intentionally, for the export market. The jet is being marketed as a cheaper alternative to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, or the Shenyang J-35. With a moderate $25-30 million price tag, the Checkmate is built around a single Sturn izdeliye 30 engine (which is also used in the Su-57M. The Checkmate unveiled at MAKS indicates an airframe with stealth capabilities; the plane had an internal weapons bap, V-shaped “ruddervators,” and a diverterless inlet. The Checkmate’s most distinct feature is its ruddervators. While most airframes have horizontal elevators to control pitch, and vertical rudders to control yaw, the Su-75 has combined the two flight surfaces into one simplified V-shaped ruddervator – which likely reduces the plane’s Radar Cross Section. Western journalists also noted that the jet’s wings were quite large – likely to increase lift and maneuverability. In high-altitude combat situations. Projections have the Su-75 exceeding Mach 1.8 with a 3,000-kilometer range. The internal weapons bay will likely be able to handle a 7,400-kilogram payload.
Apparently, the Su-75 entered production in the fall of 2021, sometime after the MAKS air show. The Russians hope to get the Checkmate in the air by 2023 and begin making foreign deliveries in 2026. The jet’s primary export customers are expected to be India, Vietnam, and Argentina. And Russia, which is anxious to expand its influence around the globe, is also courting prospective buyers in South America and Africa. Ambitiously, Russia intends to export 300 Su-75s in the next 15 years. However, that timeline and those numbers now seem imperiled as international sanctions levied against Russia (in response to the invasion of Ukraine) have disrupted Checkmate production. Indeed, the plane may never fly.
Will Sanctions Block Production and Deter Potential Buyers?
With the sanctions in place, Russia has struggled to procure semiconductors, an important tool in the aviation industry, which powers the computers that modern jets are built around. Without semiconductors, the Su-75 program will not be able to progress. Russia is also unable to import high-tech machining equipment.
Also, Russia’s performance in Ukraine has been suboptimal. Observers have been left questioning the quality of Russian military equipment. Footage of smoldering Russian tanks, helicopters, and aircraft has become a fixture in the news. Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed that Ukraine had shot down over 200 Russian aircraft. Simultaneously, the international perception of Russia has cratered.
Countries around the world have condemned Russia’s illegal invasion, making Putin and Russia something of an international pariah. Yet, that may not affect Russia’s ability to export its military equipment. Second and third-rate powers, when in need of weapons systems, default to their economic and security realities. Countries unable to domestically create their own fifth–generation stealth fighter will have to look to the export market. And countries within the Russian sphere of influence are still going to buy Russian equipment, regardless of whether the international community is upset with Putin. Besides, Russia has a proven track record in aerospace design. Anything Sukhoi creates will be adequate for the needs of Argentina and Vietnam.
Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon, and NYU. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.