Russia's Su-75 Checkmate Fighter Is in Nightmare Limbo

Su-75 Checkmate

Russia's Su-75 Checkmate Fighter Is in Nightmare Limbo

Russia's development of the Su-75 "Checkmate," a cost-effective fifth-generation fighter jet, has been significantly hindered by the ongoing war in Ukraine. 


Summary: Russia's development of the Su-75 "Checkmate," a cost-effective fifth-generation fighter jet, has been significantly hindered by the ongoing war in Ukraine. 

-The conflict has redirected Russia's defense industrial base towards immediate military needs, delaying advanced projects like the Su-75.


-The aircraft aims to provide a lower-cost alternative to models like the American F-35 but faces challenges, including a lack of foreign buyers due to geopolitical tensions. Despite its potential, without resolving production and political hurdles, the Su-75 remains an ambitious project stalled by external and internal pressures.

Russia’s Su-75 Checkmate: A Fifth-Gen Fighter Stalled by Conflict

Russia's ambitions to produce competitive fifth-generation warplanes like the Su-75 "Checkmate" have been hindered by the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has redirected the focus of its defense industrial base towards more immediate and less complex military needs.

-The Su-75, proposed as a lower-cost fifth-generation fighter, is only partially stealthy and aims to provide a cost-effective alternative to more expensive American models like the F-35. Despite its potential, the project faces significant challenges, including a lack of foreign buyers, notably the withdrawal of interest from the UAE due to geopolitical tensions.

-If Russia could resolve these production and political hurdles, the Su-75 could significantly alter the global fighter aircraft market by offering advanced capabilities at a lower price point.

Russia's Su-75 Checkmate Fighter: A Potential Game-Changer Stalled by War

Russia is a great power. Unlike other great powers, such as the United States, it favors function over form and often the Russian philosophy is to simply produce systems that are “good enough” for challenging their rivals. This is why the Russian military, despite the headaches they’ve encountered in their illegal war against Ukraine, is defeating their Ukrainian neighbors—even as Russia is forced to increasingly rely on older, less sophisticated, and cheaper-to-produce systems. 

Nevertheless, Russia continues investing in developing next-generation weapons platforms for their military. Moscow has been interested in developing fifth-generation warplanes that not only can compete with those of both the United States and China, but Russian leaders envision making technologically competitive fifth-generation warplanes that are cheaper than their American and Chinese competitors. 

Despite their commitment to building competitive fifth-generation warplanes, Russia has struggled to bring their bold concepts to fruition. The War in Ukraine has not helped them, as Russia’s defense industrial base has had to focus on mass-producing weapons and platforms that are easy to build and can be quickly deployed to the frontline. 

That has forced Russia’s design bureaus to slow down on producing newer, more advanced warbirds, as these systems require greater attention in their development phase than what the Russian defense industrial base wants to dedicate to it.

In previous posts, I have detailed the problems that the Sukhoi Design Bureau, one of Russia’s premier defense contractors, has encountered in mass producing their much-ballyhooed fifth-generation warplane, the Su-57

But there is another warbird that is struggling to take flight. This one belonging to another Russian defense firm, Rostec, a subsidiary of Sukhoi Design Bureau. That’s the Su-75 “Checkmate.”

Russia Too Focused on Ukraine to Build the Su-75

Here again, Russia’s vision for a future bird has outstripped its capacity to produce them. As I have written before, do not underestimate the Russians. Especially as their defense industrial base and war economy are turbocharged by the Ukraine War at a time when America’s and Europe’s defense industrial bases are being drained by that same conflict. 

The Su-75 is an interesting plane, though. And if the Russians ever did figure out how to make it as affordably as they want to, the Russians would have a clear advantage over their American rivals. Sure, the Americans are already talking about retiring their older fifth-generation warplanes and are well into developing a sixth-generation bird

But who among us can say that, with the exception of the F-22A Raptor (which is the plane that the Air Force is trying to retire), America’s fifth-generation birds have been anything other than unnecessary? 

Or that a costly, hard-to-produce sixth-generation bird is worth the investment?

And it’s clear that the world remains steadfastly committed to the fifth-generation warplane, hence the reason behind every major country either seeking to purchase a fifth-generation warplane or to build one of their own. As with all complex systems, the matter is one of cost and time. The Russian Su-75 could remove the biggest barrier of all—cost—if their defense industrial base has the time to work out the kinks. 

The Su-75 Specifications 

The Su-75 Checkmate is a lower-cost fifth-generation warplane because it is only partly truly stealthy. Whereas America’s F-22A Raptor and F-35 Lightning II are totally stealth, the proposed Su-75 has much of its stealthiness located in the front half of the bird. 

Described as a “light tactical fighter,” the Su-75 Checkmate will have five internal weapons bays (to enhance its stealthy appearance). It will carry both guided and unguided weapons into battle. The RVV-MD short-range missile and the RVV-SD long-range missile make up its guided munitions. Checkmate’s ground-attack capabilities will include precision-guided munitions, such as the X-31PD missile, as well as the KH-35UE.

The Su-75’s designers claim the bird can be flown in tandem with unmanned aerial vehicles, enhancing its lethality.

A single NPO Saturn AL-51F-1 engine powers this warbird. It produces around 18,000 kilogram force (KGF) thrust, with a total thrust of around 36,000 kgf. So, this bird is packing a potent engine. The Checkmate can cruise at a maximum speed of around Mach 1.8, with a range of about 1,900 miles. 

Losing Foreign Buyers

At $30 million per unit, this bird would be appealing to countries seeking access to fifth-generation warplanes but at a lower cost than what the American F-35 is going for. Too bad for Russia, its one foreign buyer, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) appears to have backed out in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and is now purchasing a block of F-35s from the United States.

Still, if the Russians were ever able to take this bird off the drawing board, especially if they can end the Ukraine War soon—and keep the costs down—the Su-75 could be a real boon for Russia. Until then, this is a bird with nowhere to fly to. Russia is seeking foreign buyers because Moscow understands that it cannot produce such planes only for its military and expect costs to remain low. 

Yet, without significant foreign interest—which is greatly lacking—the Su-75 won't ever fly. 

About the Author

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, the Asia Times, and The-Pipeline. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. His next book, A Disaster of Our Own Making: How the West Lost Ukraine, is due October 22 from Encounter Books. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon

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