Ukraine War ‘Kills’ Russia’s Stealth Fighter Development Plans; Su-75 Checkmate Fails To Woo Financers?

Russia has offered an attractive opportunity to Arab nations to engage in joint development of a new fighter jet utilizing the Su-75 Checkmate light tactical aircraft platform.

The proposal, unveiled by Alexander Mikheev, Director General of Rosoboronexport, was announced during the ongoing World Defense Show 2024 in Riyadh.

At the heart of Russia’s proposition lies the Su-75 Checkmate aircraft platform, touted as a cost-effective solution with stealth capabilities suitable for emerging markets. 

Mikheev underscored the versatility of Checkmate’s open architecture, emphasizing its potential for joint ventures in advanced aviation projects tailored to the Middle East region.

The Su-75 Checkmate, a fifth-generation light tactical aircraft, debuted internationally at the Dubai Airshow in 2021. Its adaptable design enables customization to address diverse mission requirements, including the prospect of unmanned aircraft development.

With the aircraft still in the conceptual phase, Moscow seeks committed allies who are ready to finance and eventually acquire the ‘stealth fighter.’

Moscow already operates the Su-57  fifth-generation fighter jet, albeit in limited numbers. However, international interest in the Su-57 has been lukewarm, with India being the only country to have backed the program at one stage. 

However, India withdrew from the joint development program in 2018, citing persistent developmental setbacks, notably the failure to produce a second-generation engine and disagreements regarding technology transfer. The setback, in part, prompted the Russian defense industry to reassess its strategy, leading to the conceptualization and development of the Checkmate fighter jet. 

As earlier reported by the EurAsian Times, Russia is ready to slash the prices of Su-75 fighters as per “feedback received” from allies.

Russia aims to replicate the super success of the US F-35 program with an aircraft that is fifth-generation, stealthy, cost-effective, and, most importantly, lethal.

No Customers For Checkmate? 

The Su-75 Checkmate made its first appearance before global aviation enthusiasts at the MAKS 2021 Air Show in Russia and subsequently at the Dubai Airshow 2021 in the UAE, garnering significant attention from the media and raising speculation about its potential competitiveness in the global fifth-generation fighter market.

Moscow aims to offer this aircraft to nations familiar with Soviet/Russian military technology seeking to upgrade their military aircraft fleets, especially as the US is unlikely to provide them with the F-35.

The Su-75 Checkmate boasts features that can rival the US F-35 in terms of cost efficiency per flight hour, adaptable open architecture, and customizable external designs, positioning it as an attractive option for cost-conscious buyers.

Initially, Russia indicated potential interest from countries such as the UAE, India, Vietnam, and Argentina through a promotional video. However, none of these countries have formally expressed interest in procuring the fighter jet.

For example, discussions between Rostec and Emirati businesses in November 2021 regarding the co-production of the Checkmate ended abruptly less than a year later when the UAE distanced itself from the program.

In early 2023, Moscow attempted to engage India in discussions about potential collaboration on the Su-75 development program at the Aero India 2023 International Air Show. However, New Delhi did not show much interest and preferred a ‘wait and watch’ policy.

Furthermore, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, the former Chief of the Indian Air Force, had earlier emphasized that there were no plans to acquire foreign fifth-generation fighter aircraft, as the focus remained on developing indigenous capabilities such as the AMCA.

File Image: Su-57-& Su-75 (Checkmate)

Argentina’s newly elected President Milei, a right-wing libertarian, has expressed intentions to distance the country from Russia due to disagreements with their governments’ policies, making Argentina’s participation in the Checkmate program highly unlikely and leaving Vietnam as the only potential customer from the list. 

An unexpected potential customer emerged when Nigerian representatives expressed interest in purchasing the Su-75 Checkmate during negotiations at the Russia-Africa forum in 2023. However, experts question Nigeria’s ability to finance, acquire, and maintain a stealth fighter jet, casting doubt on its viability as a customer.

Moscow’s latest offer to Arab countries reflects renewed efforts to identify probable buyers. However, the fear of US sanctions, besides Russia being entangled in the Ukraine war, is dissuading potential finances from investing in a promising but ambivalent program.

Dead End For Checkmate?

Recent developments raise significant doubts about the likelihood of the project coming to fruition. Despite anticipation for the aircraft’s first flight in 2025, there is no solid evidence to suggest this milestone will be achieved.

In January 2022, John V. Parachini, a senior international defense researcher and former RAND Research Institute’s Intelligence Policy Center director, expressed skepticism about the Checkmate’s viability, labeling it “vaporware marketing.” 

He highlighted efforts by the Sukhoi Design Bureau to generate hype around the aircraft, including offering “limited edition” bottles of Checkmate perfume. 

Parachini explained that the Su-75 falls short of its advertised role as a light tactical fighter, instead resembling a medium-weight fighter-bomber akin to the F-16V.

Reports from last year indicated changes in the design of the Checkmate since the prototype was unveiled. These alterations include enlarged flaperons on the rear wing edge, slightly longer wing leading-edge root extensions, and significant modifications to the outer wing panels previously borrowed from the Su-57. Additionally, adjustments have been made to the tail section of the fuselage.

While such modifications during the transition from prototype to production aircraft are not uncommon, they often contribute to delays rather than expediting development. This suggests that progress on the Checkmate may be hindered further.

Retired IAF Air Marshall Anil Chopra earlier told the EurAsian Times: India needs to aggressively work on AMCA, its very own 5th-gen stealth fighter (and not look at Checkmate, etc.). To fill the capability gap to counter China’s J-20 and Pakistan’s likely acquisition of JC-31, IAF could look at F-35s if the US puts them on the table.

Meanwhile, Air Marshal Anil Khosla (retired) recently told the EurAsian Times – “A cost-benefit analysis needs to be carried out before any commitment. Russia needs funding and development partners for the project; can India get more out of the deal? Also, the question that needs answering is will the project affect ‘Atma-Nirbharta’ (self-reliance).”

He added: “Due to the ongoing Ukraine war that will soon enter its third year, Russia is finding it difficult to export military spares. In the face of it, how the export of the fighter jet will be impacted remains to be seen.