Can Russia’s new Su-75 Checkmate fifth generation fighter compete with the F-35 and JAS 39 Gripen warplanes on the export market? Russia believes its fighter has already won the global sales chess match before it has even started. But this is far from reality. The Su-75 is not expected to fly until 2024 or later, even though its manufacturer said there will be four prototypes built.
Prototypes Will Be Built Quickly
Two test Su-75s will emerge soon, according to Yury Slyusar, CEO of United Aircraft Corporation. Slyusar told TASS that “We use advanced super-computer technologies in the Checkmate project, which enables us to substantially cut the timeframe of building the prototype and begin the flight tests already in 2024. Now preparations have been launched for the production of two prototypes. In all, we plan to build four prototypes,” Slyusar said.
So far, the Su-75 is known more for its slick marketing campaign at air shows. The fighter has even spawned its own “exhaust fume perfume,” bottled in the shape of a knight chess piece that takes its scent from exhaust, leather, and metal.
Could Be Cheaper than the Competition
Perfume aside, Russia’s military believes the sales from exports will help pay for the program. One driver of sales is a cheaper price. The Su-75 may cost as low as $25 to $30 million each. That’s cheaper than the F-35 as Finland paid $9.4 billion for 64 Lightning IIs this year, which puts the price for a single F-35 much higher than the Su-75. Sweden’s JAS Gripen costs about $60 million on the export market – again more expensive than the Su-75. But these fighters have a proven record compared to the Su-75 which is in its infancy.
Good Speed and Payload Plus Lower Maintenance Costs
The manufacturer claims the Su-75 can approach MACH 1.8 in speed with a range of 1,800 miles and the ability to carry seven tons of munitions. Air Force Technology wrote that “the onboard systems, cockpit, and certain other elements were derived from the Su-57 aircraft, reducing the cost and increasing the maintenance efficiency.”
Onboard Artificial Intelligence Makes It Easier to Fly
Sukhoi believes the airplane can be maintained for cheaper than the competition since the cockpit and onboard equipment are integrated as one system. Avionics is also improved over fourth-generation fighters. Sukhoi claims the fighter will have artificial intelligence onboard to help the pilot focus on flying while the AI serves as the “co-pilot.” If the AI works as expected on the manned Su-75, there could even be an unmanned version in the works.
Another Loyal Wingman on the Way
The Su-75 may have the “Loyal Wingman” capability that is so in vogue these days – meaning the airplane could control a fleet of drones for better situational awareness and improved targeting and bomb damage assessment.
The airplane will have five internal weapons bays to reduce radar signature and enable it to carry a full complement of air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, anti-radar missiles, and precision-guided bombs.
Tough to Compete Against the F-35 and JAS 39 Gripen
This wish list of capabilities is still on the drawing board and until the Su-75 makes its maiden flight, it will likely not get as many orders as the F-35 and JAS 39 Gripen. But give Russia credit for ambition. The first flight planned for 2024 may not happen as the development of Russia’s other stealth fighter the Su-57 has been plagued by problems over the years and its first flight was delayed. Expect more marketing ploys for the Su-75 at future air shows as Sukhoi attempts to build suspense and demand for the fifth-generation fighter. We have likely not seen the last of the Checkmate prototypes on display – or the last of the perfume.
What the Experts Think
While Russia is clearly pushing its line that the Su-75 will be produced and sold to foreign partners many experts aren’t so sure.
19FortyFive spoke to a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel with three decades of Russian Air Force expertise who had serious doubts the so-called Checkmate will ever fly. “When you look at the billions of dollars Russia will need to test and fly a new stealth fighter, I doubt they have the rubles to pull it off – so to speak. Also, who would want to buy any Russian military equipment after the disaster in Ukraine? Would you really want to waste billions of dollars on gear that seems poorly made or is unreliable? I doubt we will ever see the Su-75 fly, to be frank.”
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.