Russia’s fifth-generation checkmate hunter: one month later
The Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi, a subsidiary of the industrial conglomerate Rostec, presented a new fighter, called “Checkmate”, during the 2021 edition of the Russian airshow MAKS. The reveal followed what is perhaps the most sophisticated mass marketing campaign of all Russian military hardware, filled with multiple teasers and promotions. videos, the iconography of chess, a dedicated home page with a countdown and a good dose of Troll on Twitter.
Checkmate is a fifth-generation single-engine, single-seat multirole stealth fighter, developed from Sukhoi’s Light Tactical Aircraft (LTS) program.
According to the MAKS presentation and details provided by Rostec officials, the aircraft has a top speed of 1,900 kilometers per hour, an operational radius of 3,000 km or a combat radius of 1,500 km. The fighter is widely believed to be powered by the long-awaited Russian Izdeliye 30 engine, and features a modern glass cockpit with a layout largely similar to the Russian fifth-generation Su-57 fighter. The aircraft apparently comes with short take-off and landing capability in its base configuration and also sports the artificial intelligence-powered “Matryoshka” logistics support system for streamlined repair and maintenance routines. True to its versatile purpose, the hunter has a large and flexible weapon suite with a payload capacity of over seven tons. Checkmate‘s weapon complement includes RVV-MD and RVV-SD medium and short range air-to-air missiles, GROM family air-to-surface missiles, a robust catalog of guided and unguided bombs, rockets from the S-series, and more. The Checkmate can carry up to five air-to-air missiles in its internal weapon bays when deployed in its stealth configuration, or a mix of weapons in internal and external bays to maximize its payload delivery potential for missions that don’t require stealth.
In light of the Su-57’s design lessons and the painful fifth-generation experiences of some overseas competitors, the manufacturer appeared to be taking steps to ensure the plane isn’t over-designed. Instead, Sukhoi offers a fairly chaste basic Checkmate package that can be further customized by overseas customers looking for specific changes or improvements. There’s also a two-seat Checkmate variant in the works, as well as a rumored unmanned version.
At a cost of $ 25-30 million, the Checkmate is incredibly competitively priced. This will help the hunter achieve its raison d’être as an export product, aggressively positioned to compete with foreign offerings such as the JAS-39 Gripen and Dassault Rafale. There’s a caveat when it comes to pricing though: $ 25-30 million might just be the starting point before customer-specific changes that could push the price up even higher. Additional pricing information will certainly be revealed when the first export contracts are signed, although there currently does not appear to be any takers. “No,” said the director of the Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service Dmitry Shugayev, when demand last week at the Eastern Economic Forum if Moscow received requests to purchase the new fighter.
Russian officials have previously said the Checkmate is targeting African markets, as well as India and Vietnam. The fighter is expected to make its maiden flight in 2023 and enter series production in 2026.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National interest.