Meet Russia’s Su-75 Checkmate: The Doomed Stealth Fighter?

The Su-75 “Checkmate” was presented with great fanfare last summer. But as things stand, Russia’s supposedly cheap stealth fighter may never fly. Here’s why: A static mock-up of Sukhoi Su-75 “Checkmate” was unveiled last summer, to much fanfare, at the MAKS 2021 air show. President Vladimir Putin was in attendance; Western journalists, forbidden to take photos, demanded to see up close. The cell made headlines and alerted the West to emerging Soviet aerospace ambitions. But will he ever go from a model to a real fighter? The war in Ukraine could make that nearly impossible, at least for now.

Su-75: a story

The Su-75 was designed primarily for export – a cheaper alternative to the American F-35 and Chinese J-20. Scheduled to operate at 25-30 million dollars each, the Su-75 is equipped with a single Saturn izdeliye 30 engine, which is also used in the Su-57M.

Featuring an internal weapons bay, no-bypass entry, and V-shaped “rudders”, the Su-75’s design suggests the finished product will have stealth capabilities. The ruddervators are particularly distinct. While most airframes have vertical rudders (to control yaw) and horizontal elevators (to control pitch), the Su-75 combined the rudder and elevators into one simplified V-shaped rudder – which should reduce the jet’s radar signature.

Additionally, the jet’s wings, which feature a particularly large surface area, were likely intended to provide lift and maneuverability (for combat) where the air is thin (at altitudes above 40,000 feet).

The Su-75 is expected to reach speeds in excess of Mach 1.8 and have a range of 3,000 kilometers. The internal weapons bay should be able to hold 7,400 kilograms of ammunition.

Su-75: what impact will the war in Ukraine have on production?

Reports say the Su-75 entered production in 2021, having made its MAKS debut. The Russians had hoped to take the Checkmate on its maiden flight in 2023 – and begin making deliveries to overseas customers in 2026. The main export customers for the Su-75 were expected to be Argentina, India and Vietnam . And Russia, keen to expand its geopolitical footprint across the globe, is courting potential buyers across Africa and South America. Russia hoped to export 300 Su-75s in 15 years.

Yet this export schedule is now in jeopardy; international sanctions imposed on Russia, for its invasion of Ukraine, complicated the production schedule of the Su-75.

Under stifling sanctions, Russia has been unable to import semiconductors, which have become vital to the aircraft industry, powering the computers that power contemporary aircraft. Without semiconductors, the Su-75 program will remain on the ground.

Russia is also unable to import high-tech machining equipment. In addition to the sanctions-hampered production of the Su-75, Russia’s performance in Ukraine has been so dismal that observers are now questioning the overall quality of Russian military equipment.

Whether the international community will ever care about Russian-made military equipment – ​​after seeing images of Russian equipment, abandoned, smoking by the side of a Ukrainian road – is a legitimate question.

From bad to worse in Ukraine: does that mean no Su-75?

Recently, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy boasted that Ukraine shot down 200 Russian planes. Likewise, remarkable losses were recorded with regard to troops and armored vehicles. Even the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moscowwas sunk unceremoniously.

The invasion of Ukraine, which was to be a commonplace, in a few days or weeks, is now entering its fourth month. Russia was revealed as a paper tiger, with a hollowed-out army, unable even to properly seize the territory of its Third World neighbor.

Meanwhile, international perception of Russia has taken a nosedive. Most foreign powers have condemned Russia’s illegal invasion – making Putin and his cronies the black sheep of the international community.

And yet the second- and third-rate powers, when deciding how to obtain their weapons systems, will default to economic and security concerns. Can they afford to create their own viable and contemporary fighter aircraft? Do they have time to develop theirs? If a potential buyer is strapped for money or strapped for time, they will look to the export market. If this country is in the American sphere of influence, they will probably favor the F-35. If that country is within Russia’s sphere of influence, they’ll probably consider anything Russia comes up with – no matter if the international press has nice things to say about Putin. Also, Russia has a proud history of aerospace design and anything that comes off the Sukhoi production line will work great for almost any air force of Russia-aligned nations.

The lingering question, however, is whether Russia’s sphere of influence will shrink. With Finland and Sweden applying for NATO membership, perhaps some Russian-aligned states will rush to the American side of the line.

Yet, as far as the Su-75 is concerned, this is only theoretical speculation – at least until production can resume.

Harrison Kass is defense editor at 19FortyFive. A lawyer, pilot, guitarist and minor professional hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a trainee pilot, but was discharged for medical reasons. Harrison is a graduate of Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon, and NYU. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

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