Called ‘CheckMate’, Russia finally unveiled a prototype of the AI-enabled fifth-generation fighter jet at the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Expo on July 21. The aircraft is being projected as Russia’s answer to the US F-35 stealth fighter jet.
The new jet was unveiled in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin who hailed the development potential of Russian aviation.
“What we see now in Zhukovsky obviously demonstrates that Russian aviation has a high potential for development. Our aircraft industry also continues creating new competitive aviation equipment,” Putin said.
Developed by state-run Rostec’s United Aviation Corporation (UAC), the Light Tactical Aircraft (LTA), is said to possess many advanced features. An unmanned version of the aircraft is also in the pipeline, according to officials.
While the first takeoff is scheduled for 2023, the UAC plans to begin serial production of the Sukhoi single-engine jet fighter in 2026, UAC CEO Yuri Slyusar said during the presentation at the MAKS-2021 expo.
Putin also pointed out that drones, robotic systems, and artificial intelligence would dominate the future aviation sector.
The brand new fighter is considered to compete against the US F-35 Lightning II in terms of export potential.
The director of Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, Dmitry Shugayev, told reporters at the MAKS-2021 that aviation accounts for 50% of Russia’s total military exports.
Advanced Features Of CheckMate
Russian news agency TASS reported exclusively on the project details of the new fighter jet. The prototype presented at MAKS-21 was of a single-engine light tactical jet, capable of flying at a speed of Mach 1.8-2 with a range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles).
The new light jet fighter can carry up to five air-to-air missiles of various ranges in its top version, officials said. During the presentation, the plane was accompanied by mock RVV-MD, RVV-SD and H-59MK missiles.
“The internal weapons bay is the largest among this type of planes, which makes it possible to deploy the entire spectrum of aviation weapons of the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter,” UAC CEO Slyusar noted.
Talking about CheckMate’s strike capabilities, the CEO noted that the fighter will be able to attack up to six targets simultaneously.
“The plane’s avionics with the built-in AESA radar can attack six and track 30 airborne targets. If we speak about ground and naval targets, the plane can track two targets simultaneously,” he said.
The cockpit is equipped with unique panoramic sensor displays that display the status of all systems and provide excessive information about the route, targets and threats, TASS reported.
The manufacturer is also planning an unmanned version of the jet. “Both manned and unmanned versions of the Checkmate can operate in a networking combat system, which means acting as a part of a group of manned and unmanned aircraft,” Checkmate chief designer Mikhail Strelets told TASS.
“The Checkmate is equipped with artificial intelligence which acts as a co-pilot. It will diagnose all plane systems and assist the pilot in a rapidly changing combat situation. The pilot will focus on issuing commands, and the machine will perform all operations automatically,” he added.
UAC believes that the unmanned supersonic jet will interest potential clients, including the Russian Aerospace Forces.
Focus On ‘Stealth’ Features
According to a Forbes report, there are several low-observable features in the jet, which makes it stealthier.
The Sukhoi’s engineers incorporated a modified inlet that could partially obscure the fighter’s most radar-reflective component — the engine turbine.
An inlet controls the air intake of the aircraft, ensuring a smooth airflow into the engine. The tail of CheckMate has “ruddervators”, which help to reduce the number of highly detectable surfaces on a jet while still affording it good maneuverability, as per the report.
This renewed focus on stealth comes as Russia’s other fifth-generation Su-57 fighter lags behind in advanced stealth technologies unlike its counterparts — US F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor and China’s Chengdu J-20.
The US is still the world’s leading operator of stealth aircraft with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and F-22. China’s J-20 also beats the Russian Su-57 in stealthiness. The former is coming close to operationalizing its second fifth-generation FC-31 stealth aircraft.
Experts suggest that CheckMate’s stealth could be a defining feature in Russia’s attempts to portray the new fighter as an export commodity.
As reported by The Eurasian Times, Russia claims countries such as India, China and Vietnam are among potential buyers of the new light fighter jet. UAC plans to manufacture 300 single-engine light tactical fighter jets within the next 15 years based on the demand.
“300 planes are on our business plan. We hope it will be done within the next 15 years,” Slyusar said, adding that the plan rests on the market analysis.
The teaser of the aircraft released about a week ago, showed air force pilots of different countries including India, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Vietnam eyeing a chance to fly the fighter.
Later, many leaked photos of the plane were circulated online which created a lot of buzz in the defense circles. One of them was even shared by Rostec’s official social media account, feeding speculations that the company is pushing for an aggressive advertising campaign.
Chief designer Strelets highlighted the easy maintenance of the light tactical plane by equipping it with an automated logistical support system.
“The special Matreshka automated logistical support system was developed for this fighter. Using the newest methods of predictive analytics, the system will track the plane’s condition in real-time throughout its life cycle,” he said.
“This will make it possible to plan maintenance and repairs, and will significantly reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of maintenance operations,” he added.