Russia has unveiled the Sukhoi Checkmate, a new fifth-generation fighter jet intended to supplement the Su-57 and conquer the international market.
A mockup of the aircraft was presented in a grand ceremony on the opening day of the MAKS airshow in Moscow on July 20, 2021.
“We have been working on the project for just slightly longer than one year. Such a fast development cycle was possible only with the help of advanced computer technologies and virtual testing,” Yuri Slyusar, CEO of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), said at the event.
According to the manufacturer, the aircraft is already prepared for testing, which may mean that a prototype is either manufactured or is going to be prepared in the near future. No further information regarding the deadlines was revealed, although Russian media reports that there are plans to perform the maiden flight by 2023 and start deliveries in 2026. The aircraft has also not been purchased by the Russian military, which explains the lack of a model number. Slyusar explained that the development was an initiative of Rostec, using company’s own finances.
The Checkmate is going to be a fifth-generation single-engine supersonic fighter jet with stealth features, internal weapon bays, and short take-off capability. According to Rostec, maximum speed of the aircraft is Mach 1.8, the range is 2,800 kilometers (1,740 miles), and the payload capacity is 7,400 kilograms (16,300 pounds).
The manufacturer also claims that the jet is equipped with an advanced artificial intelligence system which acts as a “copilot”, as well as features high modularity and thus can be easily developed into different versions, such as twin-seat and unmanned, depending on the requirements of a client.
The jet is most likely going to be powered by the so-called Izdelye 30, an upcoming turbofan engine currently under development by Saturn, a subsidiary of Russia’s United Engine Corporation. The mass production of Izdelye 30 is slated for the mid-2020s.
The new aircraft has been at the center of an intense publicity campaign, with numerous teaser trailers and cryptic tweets released by Rostec and its subsidiaries through the last week. It has been speculated that the aircraft could be manufactured by MiG instead of Sukhoi, or that its designation is going to be Su-75, as per the fuselage number seen on the mockup. According to Slyusar, “75” was selected as a reversed “57”, showing the supplemental role of the aircraft (in relation to the Su-57), as well as because 7 and 5 are lucky numbers for Sukhoi.
According to Slyusar, the aircraft is expected to be purchased by Asian, Middle-Easter, African, European and Latin American states that look for an affordable alternative to existing fifth-generation single-engine fighter jets. Rostec’s market analysis shows that 300 such jets may be manufactured and sold, Rostec’s CEO said, although no negotiations have been started so far.
Rostec is a state-owned conglomerate which controls much of the country’s aviation industry, including United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and its subsidiaries Sukhoi, MiG, and others.
As advertised, the Checkmate is expected to be a lighter, more affordable alternative to the Sukhoi Su-57 Felon, Russia’s first fifth-generation fighter jet which saw first deliveries to the Russian Air Force in late 2020.
A scheme of deploying a heavier fighter aircraft in smaller numbers and supplementing it with a different, lighter model was widely employed in the previous generation. A duo of the Su-27 and the MiG-29 composed the bulk of Soviet and later Russian fighter jet fleet, while the US Air Force employed the McDonnell Douglas F-15 and the General Dynamics F-16 in a similar manner.
Latest fifth-generation fighter jets appear to follow this pattern to some extent. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II was conceived as a single-engine counterpart to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, with which the Su-57 is often compared. Similarly, it is expected that the Chinese Shenyang FC-31 Gyrfalcon is going to be adopted to supplement the heavier Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon.
On the international market the Checkmate is bound to compete with both the F-35 and the FC-31, as well as several upcoming fifth-generation fighter jets, such as the Indian HAL AMCA. When asked to compare the new aircraft with the F-35, Sliusar said that Checkmate is more stealthy, as well as demonstrates a “Russian approach” to the problem of developing a fifth-generation fighter jet.