Warplanes: Russia Presents Its F-35ski


August 12, 2021: Russia recently revealed a new single engine stealth fighter called Checkmate. This was done outside Moscow at the MAKS 2021 aviation show. Sukhoi, the developer and manufacturer of the most successful current Russian fighters, displayed a mockup of the new single-engine Checkmate stealth fighter, which is apparently the Russian answer to the similar American F-35. Checkmate is being developed by the same team that designed the Su-57, the Russian answer to the American F-22. The Su-57 proved to be a failure as an F-22 clone and few are being built, and those only for the Russian Air Force. Export customers cancelled orders and accused Sukhoi and the Russian government of fraud and trying to sell an aircraft that does not work. Checkmate appears to be a desperate move to salvage something from all the money spent on developing the Su-57.

Checkmate will come in one and two seat versions, with the two-seater used as a trainer or an electronic warfare aircraft. There were also plans for an unmanned version, without a cockpit, and thus cheaper to build. Russia already has the S-70, a UCAV (unmanned combat aircraft) in production. This stealthy, delta wing aircraft has already been tested accompanying manned fighters and production is underway.

Checkmate is shaped more like the American YF-23, the loser in the competition to select a stealth fighter design. The YF-22 won and in 1991 became the F-22. Only two YF-23s were built as development aircraft and given the amount of data obtained from defense industries by Russian hackers since then, that could have included detailed plans for the YF-23. Moreover, the two YF-23s eventually became museum aircraft and available for anyone to photograph. Over the years many details of the YF-23 performance were published.

Russia used a similar approach when the U.S. had two competing designs for a new ground attack aircraft. The YA-10 won out over the YA-9 in 1973 and entered service in 1976. Russia adopted the YA-9 design and their Su-25 entered service five years later. The Su-25 was successful and over 1,024 were built, compared to 713 A-10s. Both aircraft were popular with the ground troops and are still in use after undergoing several upgrades.

Checkmate saves a lot of time, effort and money adopting the YF-23 design. The Su-57 was an overall disappointment but many of its features were successful and these are apparently being incorporated into the Checkmate. In one respect Checkmate will not match the F-35 and that is the extensive software and data-fusion systems that all pilots report as remarkable and make the F-35 a truly unique aircraft, giving the pilot unique situational awareness of what is going on around him. The Russians have seen the Israelis F-35s in action and were impressed.

Despite all the tech Russia has available for Checkmate, they have much less money available to integrate it all into a new aircraft that will approach the F-35 in performance. Then again, Russia may just be trying to salvage what they can from their Su-57 debacle and find some satisfied export customers for their new Su-75, which is believed to be the official designation of Checkmate once it is flying in a few years. The Checkmate is expected to be a lot cheaper than the Su-57 and F-35 and, unlike the Su-57, deliver what was promised.


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