Rostec, the Russian industrial conglomerate, confirmed that the Russian Defense Ministry is mulling the decision to acquire the new Checkmate stealth fighter.
“They wanted to have some, of course. We recently discussed with the minister [of defense] that they need to come up with mission requirements stating what configuration they are looking for in the jet,” Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov told reporters at the Dubai Airshow, according to Russian news organization TASS. “The configuration that we have made now was funded by us and the Russian Industry and Trade Ministry.” If confirmed, then the Russian Defense Ministry’s interest in the Checkmate would be a big wing for the fledgling fighter.
While stealthy, Russia’s newest stealth fighter appears to be a compromise design aimed at squeezing the most out of basic stealth features to produce an affordable baseline design.
Like many stealth fighters, the Checkmate features stealth fuselage contouring and a nose chine. The fighter’s single-engine air intake forms a chin below the nose and appears to hide turbine blades from enemy radar. The airframe also makes use of ruddervators, which combine the rudder and elevator characteristics. The design offers radar fewer right angles and offers stealth advantages.
And those features are reflected in the Checkmate’s price tag: an estimated $30 million. That is significantly less than the world’s most prolific stealth fighter, the F-35 fighter jet family, which can cost around $90 million apiece depending on the variant.
The relatively low price point reflects the fighter’s export orientation, a fact reinforced by the media blitz surrounding the fighter before it was officially unveiled. Promotional material showed pilots from the Middle East, Latin America, India, and other countries, perhaps a marketing gag to pique interest for the fighter in those places.
Build, Build, Build
Sukhoi, the Russian aerospace firm behind the Checkmate design, is already building flight prototypes at United Aircraft Corporation’s manufacturing plant at Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Siberia, according to Aviation Week. Yuri Slyusar, UAC’s General Director, told reporters that “the plant at Komsomolsk has started to build a few prototypes for the starting batch.”
This information about the Checkmate prototypes confirms that the Checkmate airframe display first unveiled at the MAKS Airshow was a static model and not a flight-worthy prototype, though the model could potentially be made flightworthy.
Furthermore, the United Arab Emirates could end up being the first country to import the Checkmate. The UAE’s current fighter inventory includes American F-16 Fighting Falcons and French Mirage 2000s.
Securing a first export customer would be a big win for the Checkmate program—a fresh cash injection could pave the way for broader export.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer for the National Interest. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.