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Russia Likely Can’t Afford Development of New Stealth Fighter

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Russia Likely Can't Afford Development of New Stealth Fighter 1

  • Russia has officially unveiled its new fighter jet at the MAKS-2021 air show in Moscow.
  • The new jet appears oriented toward the foreign export market, reflecting an ongoing challenge for Russia’s stealth program.

Earlier this week, Russia officially unveiled amid much media attention its secret new fighter jet named “Checkmate,” or sometimes referred to now as the Su-75, at the MAKS-2021 air show in Moscow.

Checkmate indeed possesses all of the hallmarks of an impressive next-generation aircraft that can potentially hunt down the US Air Force’s F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters. But is that really the endgame?

Foreign export market

Checkmate, new Sukhoi fifth-generation stealth fighter jet is seen during an opening ceremony of the MAKS-2021 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, July 20, 2021

Russia’s new Checkmate fighter at an opening ceremony of the MAKS-2021 air show, July 20, 2021

Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS


According to defense writer David Axe at Forbes, Rostec, the parent company of Russian plane manufacturer Sukhoi, will likely make Sukhoi’s new Checkmate fighter jet available to the foreign market.

In fact, Rostec’s recent teaser video for the jet “features actors portraying pilots from Vietnam, India, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates.”

He continued: “It’s obvious why Russia would want a fighter like Checkmate that can shoot down the United States’ own top fighters. It’s less clear that Vietnam, India, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates want the same thing. Here’s the rub. Without financing from foreign countries, there’s probably no way Checkmate gets built. But the fighter’s design might not appeal to the very buyers Moscow needs to make the project viable. And that would leave in the cold the one customer — the Russian air force — that might actually have a requirement for a fighter like Checkmate.”

Axe also cited Tom Cooper, an aviation expert and author, who described the Checkmate as “a pig in a poke.”

“The actual question is who is going to buy that pig in a poke?” he asked.

Impressive specs

A prototype of Russia's new Checkmate stealth fighter jet

A prototype of Russia’s prospective Checkmate fighter jet at the MAKS-2021 airshow, July 20, 2021.

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko


As reported in Popular Mechanics, the Checkmate comes with an “unusually pointy nose and an engine intake below the cockpit,” in addition to an “internal weapons bay designed to preserve its anti-radar shaping and can carry both air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance, including both infrared- and radar-guided air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground and anti-ship missiles, guided and unguided bombs, and unguided rockets.”

Boasting a hefty price tag of $25 million to $30 million, the first Checkmate is expected to take flight in 2023, and the actual deliveries of combat-ready planes could start as early as 2026.

A big problem

Russia's new "Checkmate" stealth fighter at its unveiling

Russia’s Checkmate fighter at the MAKS-2021 airshow, July 20, 2021

Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS


Another reason to fast-track the new jet to the foreign export market is the fact that Russia can barely afford to finance the Su-57 program, which, all said and done, could potentially end up costing tens of billions of dollars.

“This Checkmate is facing exactly the same obstacles as the Su-57,” Cooper said.

“The Russian government … has no money to complete its development and get it into series production,” he continued.

Sukhoi Su-57 is a stealth-capable fighter jet that is the outcome of the Russian Air Force’s PAK FA fifth-generation fighter jet program. The single-seat, twin-engine aircraft offers a supersonic range of more than 1,500 kilometers, which is more than two times the range of the Su-27 fighter.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

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