Russia eyes Indian collaboration in developing fifth-gen Checkmate fighter

Russia reportedly plans to discuss potential cooperation with India in the creation of new fifth-generation combat aircraft – with the previously unveiled Checkmate light tactical fighter being focused on in particular – at the Aero India 2023 international air show and defence exhibition, which is currently being held in Bengaluru.

The move was reported by the Russian state-owned news agency, TASS, on February 7, which quoted a source close to Russia’s Rostec State Corporation in confirming that a delegation of representatives from the nation’s aircraft manufacturing firms would be in attendance at Aero India 2023. The source added that the delegation plans to discuss options for India to collaborate in the development of new fifth-generation combat aircraft with Russia.

“We plan to discuss cooperation in fifth-generation aircraft. In particular, there is the intention to invite our Indian partners to join the Checkmate light tactical fighter project,” the source told TASS. The scope of how much India could contribute to the ongoing Checkmate project – which was first announced with the unveiling of a mock-up during Russia’s International Aviation and Space Salon (MAKS) at Zhukovsky International Airport, near Moscow, in July 2021 – or what other projects may be discussed was not elaborated on by the TASS source.

The mock-up of the Sukhoi 'Checkmate' light fifth-generation fighter during its unveiling on the first day of MAKS 2021 at Zhukovsky International Airport, Moscow, on July 20, 2021.
The mock-up of the Sukhoi 'Checkmate' light fifth-generation fighter during its unveiling on the first day of MAKS 2021 at Zhukovsky International Airport, Moscow, on July 20, 2021. United Aircraft Corporation

The biennial event, which is currently being hosted at Yelahanka Air Force Station (AFS), began on February 13 and will conclude on February 17. Russia has historically been an active participant at Aero India and featured more than 200 military products at the last edition of the event in 2021.

According to details revealed at the Checkmate’s unveiling in 2021, a prototype technology demonstrator of the new light tactical stealth fighter – which is a derivative of the already operational Sukhoi Su-57 Felon – is scheduled to complete its first flight in 2023, with pre-series prototypes expected to be built in 2024 and 2025. The first serial production batch of aircraft is slated to be produced and delivered in 2026/2027. Available information states that Checkmate will boast a short take-off and landing (STOL) capability and a range of up to 1,865 miles, with a 930-mile combat radius and a maximum speed of Mach 1.8, while being able to maintain sustained supersonic flight.

Significantly, Checkmate will be first single-engine Russian fighter to be developed and produced since the Cold War-era. It will feature an as yet undefined thrust-vectoring afterburning engine and a high thrust-to-weight ratio. Its equipment will include an advanced active phased array radar, enabling the platform to simultaneously attack up to six targets – even while encountering strong electronic interference – while artificial intelligence (AI) will independently conduct aircraft diagnostics to reduce pilot workload. It will also feature radar stealth, a unique electronic warfare system and an advanced multi-band passive detection system.

The platform’s combat payload will be in excess of 15,000lb and the airframe will be stressed up to 8G. At the unveiling in July 2021, it was revealed that the unit cost is, somewhat optimistically, estimated to be less than $30m. The aircraft has three weapons bays, with the largest being located under the fuselage and capable of carrying three air-to-air missiles. Two smaller bays – located in front of the main undercarriage on either side of the airframe are each designed to carry one smaller air-to-air missile. These internal bays can also house gun systems.

When Checkmate was unveiled, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, suggested that the platform’s primary potential markets were likely to be India, Vietnam and nations across the African continent. He added that there was a projected global demand for 300 examples. In addition, an uncrewed combat version of the Checkmate fighter is also being developed, which could be flown in the ‘Loyal Wingman’ role, acting as a command post for a group of both manned and unmanned military aircraft.