Russian defense giant Rostec is holding talks with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) about co-producing its Checkmate fifth-generation stealth fighter.
Rostec executive Viktor Kladov said that the company conducted negotiations with the UAE’s defense sector at the Dubai Airshow about a joint production arrangement for the Su-75 “Checkmate” fighter, according to Defense News. Kladov added that “Russia doesn’t set any political tag or conditions for cooperation with countries,” likely a jab at the U.S. arms industry. Kladov, who heads Rostec’s international cooperation and regional policy department, said that the company began to make plans to produce a light and cheap fifth-generation fighter after assessing demand for such a product in Middle-Eastern markets. “This sector is empty except for F-35, which is co-produced between 22 countries. Even for the U.S., producing on their own is quite expensive,” said Kladov.
The Checkmate is being aggressively marketed by Rostec as an export product, but Kladov’s statement marks the first time that a Russian official publicly discussed a potential co-production arrangement with a foreign partner. It was revealed in September by deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov and recently confirmed by Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov that Russia’s Defense Ministry is planning on placing a domestic order for an early batch of Checkmate fighters.
Former president Donald Trump agreed to sell the UAE fifty F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation stealth fighters last year as part of a $23 billion defense contract that also included combat drones and other defense equipment, but the Biden administration previously froze the deal pending a sweeping review of its provisions. The White House has now greenlit the F-35 deal, with deputy U.S. assistant secretary of state Mira Resnick telling reporters on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow that the U.S. is “fully committed” to the sale. “We are fully committed to the F-35 and transferring the F-35, which is a game-changer for the Emiratis,” she said. “We are working with them as we speak to make sure that there are clarifications to the various assurances that were made to the previous administration.” Resnick declined to elaborate on these clarifications and assurances. The exact terms of the prospective F-35 sale to the UAE remain unclear, as does the current state of Abu Dhabi’s procurement deliberations.
The Checkmate is a single-engine, lightweight multirole fifth-generation stealth fighter, unveiled earlier this summer during Russia’s MAKS airshow. The fighter was displayed at the 2021 edition of the Dubai Airshow, which ran from November 14-18. Yuri Slyusar, CEO of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), announced on Monday that the first few operational Checkmate prototypes are under construction in Sukhoi’s Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant, located to Russia’s far east.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.