Russian Checkmate at the MAKS Airshow

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Russia unveiled its first post-soviet single engine stealth fighter jet, the ‘Checkmate’ or SU-75 during the MAKS 2021 International aerospace show, which opened on July 20th.

The fighter bears a strong resemblance to a ‘SU-57,’ and serves as a lighter counterpart to the heavyweight next generation fighter which uses many of the same fifth generation technologies – including most likely the same Saturn 30 engine, hence dubbed as a ‘mini SU-57.

The aircraft will reportedly come in unmanned, single seat and twin seat variants and will be ready for export in 2026.

Checkmate Built for Africa, India and Vietnam

While the Checkmate fighter was initially speculated to replace Russia’s few medium weight MiG-29 fighters it now appears to be intended primarily for export markets.

According to military watch, a strong indication that Russia’s new lightweight fighter is made primarily for export is its name, ‘Checkmate,’ as it was left untranslated from English at MAKS 2021.

The lack of a Russian name indicates that it is aimed primarily if not exclusively to foreign clients with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov also stating regarding the program that, “It will indeed be oriented towards African countries, India and Vietnam. The demand for these aircraft is quite high, it is estimated at least 300 aircraft in the near future.”

CEO of Russia’s state arms exporter Rostec also reportedly confirmed at MAKS 2021 that the aircraft already had a foreign buyer.

Russian Checkmate Stealth Fighter Prototype

The aircraft represents only the world’s second single engine post-fourth generation fighter to be unveiled, following the American F-35, and comes with lower maintenance requirements and much cheaper operational costs. It is the lightest fifth generation fighter yet to be seen anywhere in the world.

Regarding the new fighter’s cost, the head of Russian state arms exporter Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, said the fighter would be marketed at a very low price $25-30 million per aircraft – although the price could be significantly higher depending on what armaments, training and and spare parts that are included in the contract.

He also highlighted that the fighter was developed very quickly because it relied on technologies already developed for the Su-57.

The fighter was displayed with standard armaments for fourth generation Russian fighters – namely the R-73 heat-seeking and R-77 active radar-homing air to air missiles as well as the  Kh-59MK anti-ship cruise missile. The next generation is expected to benefit from super-maneuverability provided by its single thrust vectoring engine – much like the Chinese J-10C fighter currently does – as well as a supercruise capability to fly supersonically for extended periods without using afterburners.

Its speed of Mach 2.2 is far from exceptional for a post-second generation Russian fighter, while its relatively low altitude ceiling of 16.5km will disadvantage it relative to older aircraft such as the Flanker or MiG-29.

The Checkmate’s main weapons bay within its lower fuselage is designed to accommodate three very long range R-37M air to air missiles, which currently have the longest engagement range in the world, while a long conformal weapons bays forward of the main landing gear houses smaller short ranged R-73 missiles.

Its 1500km combat radius, combined with a much smaller sensor suite, provide the Checkmate with a much smaller coverage than the Su-57 as is typical for lightweight fighters. It is nevertheless respectable for an aircraft of its size. The aircraft also benefits from a short takeoff and landing capability and a weapons payload of approximately 6800km.


By Victor Shalton Odhiambo

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