Russia’s new fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, Checkmate, has been described as a domestic jet that would be sold internationally. This raises the question as to which countries might be potential Russian customers.
Will Russia sell its Checkmate jets to the UAE, which has expressed interest in the F-35 fighter jet? Perhaps it might even offer its Checkmate jets to Iran, Turkey and other countries hoping to generate a fifth-generation capability.
It would make sense for Russia to foster an F-35-like coalition of countries operating Checkmate jets to counter the kind of massive data-sharing attack network the multi-national F-35 aircraft presents. However, there simply may not be anywhere near as many countries that are willing to become a Checkmate customer sufficient to produce a counterbalance to the global allied reach of the F-35 program.
What about India? India is of course a U.S. ally that is committed to nonalignment ideals. The country is regarded as an extremely vital component of U.S. efforts to deter and contain China. Why doesn’t India have the F-35 jet? It is notable that several U.S.-friendly countries have acquired Russian-built weapons systems. For instance, Turkey and India have invested in Russian-made S-400 missile systems, which is something Pentagon officials did not like.
The question of relevance weighs heavily upon the performance parameters and potential promise of the Checkmate jet, such as its ability to truly match or rival global fifth-generation aircraft. That question remains unanswered, so the actual impact of an Indian Checkmate in terms of deterrence effect may not be known. Also, the ability to present a threat in any kind of a collective fashion relies on the Checkmate jet’s ability to seamlessly and securely network with other Checkmate jets and fourth-generation aircraft. The tactical impact of the F-35 jet, for example, is exponentially multiplied by its ability to network and operate as part of a broader attack fleet. Does the Checkmate jet have anything comparable to the F-35 jet’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link? Could Russia produce a large enough fleet of Checkmate jets that, if successfully networked together and distributed globally to interested customers, can present a counterbalance to the deterrence effect of the F-35 jet? Most likely not, it would seem.
Furthermore, India is fundamentally a U.S. ally in many respects, given its shared interest in deterring China. Clashes between the two countries over their shared border raise the prospect of some kind of confrontation between them, which is unlikely to disappear from India’s military thought process. India may not have enough shared interests with Russia to invest in a networked, combined force of allied Checkmate jets anyway. Therefore, if India does buy Checkmate jets, then it is likely that the country would use them for its own purposes rather than use the acquisition to establish some kind of global Checkmate multinational alliance.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.