On Tuesday, Russia’s Sukhoi aircraft design bureau unveiled a sleek new fighter jet intended to rival Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Based on technology from its Su-57 fighter, Sukhoi has dubbed the new fighter “Checkmate.”
A prototype of the Checkmate fighter was the opening act for the MAKS-2021 air show at Zhukovsky Airport southeast of Moscow, which runs from July 20-25 and of which Sputnik is the official media partner. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the exhibit on its opening day.
The Checkmate is intended for export, and the promotional video released a day before the expo included interested figures from the United Arab Emirates, India, Vietnam, and Argentina.
“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,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said at the presentation on Tuesday. Sukhoi expects to begin deliveries in under six years.
Also at the presentation, Rostec chief Sergei Chemezov said the Checkmate would cost roughly $25-30 million each, which is just a fraction of the price of some advanced European fighter jets like the Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen, to say nothing of Lockheed’s F-35.
“Why were we able to make this aircraft so quickly? We used the Su-57 developments,” Chemezov explained, noting that among these were the jet’s single engine and its avionics systems.
The jet clearly draws on the Su-57, Russia’s first fifth-generation fighter, in other ways as well, including the slide-back bubble canopy and its internal weapons bay – a standard for minimizing visibility on enemy radars. A display near the jet suggests some of its prospective weaponry, including the R-73 heat-seeking anti-air missile, the R-77 active radar-homing anti-air missile, and the Kh-59MK anti-ship cruise missile, meaning it could be used for both air superiority and surface strike missions.
The Checkmate will also be able to deploy missile-shaped drones from its internal weapons bay, according to the presentation. The fighter will be able to reach speeds of up to Mach 2.2 and an altitude of 54,000 feet.
As a fifth-generation aircraft, the Checkmate will have greatly reduced radar visibility, vectored thrust capability or “supermaneuverability,” and likely also supercruise, meaning it would be able to hit supersonic speeds without needing to use the gas-guzzling afterburner.
Notable differences from the Su-57 include its single engine, which will make the Checkmate much lighter but also unable to recover from a burnout; the single diverterless supersonic inlet mounted under the nose; and the four angled tail surfaces, which give it a profile evocative of the failed YF-23 Black Widow, a competitor design to the aircraft that the Pentagon later adopted as the F-22.
The two Northrop-McDonnell Douglas YF-23 prototypes in flight. The aircraft on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force is the darker one on the right.
Russia hasn’t debuted a single-engine fighter aircraft in more than 50 years, since the Su-22 and MiG-27 both entered service in 1970.
Its name, Checkmate, is notably left untranslated from English even in Russian, where the winning move of a game of chess is called “shakh-i-mat.” That leaves little doubt about who the recipient of the message is.
While the US has refused to sell its advanced F-22 Raptor fighter to other nations, the jet’s sister aircraft, the F-35, has been marketed to several, including many NATO allies but also US partners like Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Thus, Checkmate is Moscow’s winning reply to the proliferation of F-35s around the globe.
However, Washington has attempted to frustrate sales of advanced Russian military hardware to other nations through punitive measures such as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which the US uses to impose sanctions on the equipment’s buyers. Targeted systems include the Su-35 fighter and S-400 air defense system.