Rostec has unveiled a mock-up of a new fifth-generation single-engine light fighter jet at MAKS-2021, which is currently being held at Moscow’s Zhukovsky International Airport (ZIA/UUBW). This new aircraft, designed by Sukhoi, is dubbed “Checkmate” and is also known as the Light Tactical Aircraft (LTS).
Design, Cost, and More
The Checkmate has several internal weapon bays in the fuselage and can carry up to three long-range air-to-air missiles (AAM) and two short-range AAMs for defense. The Checkmate will also be able to carry a wide array of air-to-ground munitions, not only guided munitions but also unguided rockets and bombs, which is unusual for a fifth-generation aircraft. Additionally, the aircraft will have provisions for an internal cannon.
Perhaps the most interesting design feature is the air intake, which wraps around the lower nose section, just under the cockpit. Also, unlike most jets, the Checkmate lacks a horizontal stabilizer and has a large taileron-like structure. The powerplant is not yet confirmed, but it could be comparable to the AL-41F1 (used on the Su-57) and the Izdeliye 30, which is currently in development.
Performance-wise, the Checkmate has a range of 3,000 km (1,864 mi), a combat radius of 1,500 km (932 mi), and can carry 7.400 kg (16,300 pounds) of payload. The plane will have STOL capabilities and will be equipped with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that should be able to simultaneously engage six targets.
Rostec has announced that the price of each aircraft could be around $30 million USD. It’s also worth noting that there may be unmanned and naval variants of the Checkmate in the future.
Checkmate’s design may give it a competitive edge over the F-35A in terms of sales. The design of this aircraft most likely reflects Sukhoi’s desire for low observability and range rather than maneuverability, but the final result may focus on stealth on the front of the aircraft, like the existing Su-57. According to Thomas Newdick, this approach to stealth may help reduce the price of the aircraft, giving it a competitive advantage over the F-35 ($80 million USD at the least.) While $30 million may be optimistic given its capabilities, Rostec will probably be able to undercut Lockheed Martin. It is also worth noting that the Checkmate may use the same or similar technologies as the Su-57, further simplifying development and reducing the cost.
Reducing stealthy features in favor of cost reduction isn’t enitrely a new thing. When South Korea unveiled the KAI KF-21 Boramae earlier this year (no topic on the IFC, surprisingly), they announced that the KF-21 would initially be a 4.5-gen fighter, meaning that the first batches of the Boramae would not have internal weapon bays. This could help reduce the cost of each KF-21 produced, which would allow some less wealthier countries to purchase more advanced fighter aircraft.
When you put all of the information together, it’s kind of obvious that the Checkmate is intended for export, but where would Russia export this new jet? Lockheed has sold the F-35 to many US Allies in Europe and Asia. China, on the other hand, may sell its aircraft to less-developed nations (they’ve already sold the Hongdu JL-10 to Zambia and it’s being considered in Pakistan and South America as a combat aircraft.) South Korea’s KF-21 may fulfill the southeast Asian market (Indonesia is co-developing the Boramae, so they will most likely buy it.)
It’s the countries who have strong economic and political ties with Russia, namely most of the CIS and some of the Balkans.
Theoretically, Russia could sell the Checkmate to those countries and replace their aging Mig-29s, Su-25s, and possibly heavier Su-27s. Additionally, if Rostec can undercut KAI and Chengdu, they may be able to take a slice or two of the Asian market. Of course, there may also be demand in regions elsewhere including Latin America, where historically there are not many operators of Russian aircraft, and the Middle East, where some countries have previously shown interest for the Su-57.
Whatever happens, the first flight for the Checkmate is planned to take place in 2023 and it will be introduced in the latter half of this decade.
Rostec for both of the images used
Thanks for reading
I’m going to post it on the IFC as well, so please tell me if you find any mistakes.