Photos: Meet ‘Checkmate’, Sukhoi’s Sleek New Fifth-Gen Fighter Jet for Half the Cost of an F-35

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.

Russia MAKS Airshow Checkmate Fighter

Prototype of the Checkmate fifth-generation fighter at the MAKS air show, showing the aircraft’s four tail surfaces and single engine, which is unusual for Russian aircraft.

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.

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.

A prototype of Russia’s new Sukhoi Checkmate Fighter is displayed at the MAKS 2021 International Aviation and Space Salon, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia. The missiles on display include the R-73 and R-77 anti-air missiles and the Kh-59MK anti-ship missile.

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.

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.

Russia MAKS Airshow Checkmate Fighter

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.

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.


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