Is the Su-75 Just Military Vaporware? - In 2021 at the MAKS air show with Russian President Vladimir Putin in attendance, the Sukhoi Design Bureau officially unveiled its Su-75 "Checkmate" Light Tactical Aircraft. The company touted it as a low-cost export aircraft to compete with the American-designed Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, Swedish JAS-39 Gripen, and China's Shengyang FC-31.
The Kremlin announced that it would produce some 300 aircraft over the next 15 years and that several prototypes were being manufactured at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Plant, where the Sukhoi Su-57 (NATO reporting name "Felon") is manufactured.
Yet, despite early hype, the aircraft has been described as little more than vaporware in recent reports – as its development had reportedly been delayed due to international sanctions. At one point, it almost seemed that Russia would be forced to admit it was facing a "Checkmate" for the entire program.
Is Russia Out of Moves?
Earlier this year, Moscow made a final move at the Aero India 2023 International Air Show with plans to discuss potential collaboration with India in developing the fighter.
However, it appeared that New Delhi had little to no interest in partnering on the program. Moreover, efforts to partner with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also failed to materialize.
Su-75: What We Know
The Su-75, a derivative of the Su-57, reportedly incorporates the latest systems, including its open architecture configuration to meet the customer’s requirements and unique artificial intelligence technologies.
Rostec has also claimed the single-engine stealth fighter will be outfitted with an inboard compartment for airborne air-to-air and air-to-surface armaments, while it could carry a payload of over seven tonnes and will be capable of striking up to six targets at a time.
The Checkmate fighter will be capable of flying at Mach 1.8 (1.8 times the speed of sound) and will have an operating range of 3,000 km.
As previously reported, the design is typical of a fifth-generation fighter, with diverterless supersonic inlets, internal weapons bays, and radar-absorbent coating all designed to reduce radar cross-section (RCS) and make the Checkmate a stealthy fighter. Inside, the cockpit appears to be laid out almost identically to the Su-57. Its avionics include active electronically scanned array radar, a must in modern fighters as well as open architecture code which greatly eases the update process.
Yet, AviationWeek reported in June that the aircraft's design has changed since the prototype was unveiled. This includes enlarged flaperons on the rear wing edge, while the wing leading-edge root extensions are slightly longer. The outer wing panels previously taken directly from the Su-57 had been modified. In addition, the tail section of the fuselage has been modified.
Such changes from a prototype to production aircraft aren't uncommon – yet, rarely do these speed the development. If anything, this could further impede what little progress has been made on the Checkmate.
Reports from Russian state media have suggested that Sukhoi was working on three variants of the Su-75: a single-seater, a two-seater, and an unmanned version.
"The work on the Checkmate's unmanned version has been ongoing since the early stages of designing. The unmanned version can be created alongside the single-seat airplane," United Aircraft Corporation CEO Yurty Slyusar told Tass at the Army 2022 International Military-Technical Forum in August 2022.
The potential for the unmanned aircraft's flight tests will be developed as part of the outpacing work on the manned version," Slyusar added.
The Rostec chief further said at the time that the plan was to build four prototypes, with testing to begin in 2024. It is unclear if that timeline has changed.
It is Still Just Vaporware
It was back in January 2022 that John V. Parachini, senior international defense researcher and former director of RAND Research Institute's Intelligence Policy Center, suggested that the Checkmate was little more than vaporware marketing – referencing software and hardware that never materializes after being introduced often with much fanfare.
He noted that the Sukhoi Design Bureau pulled out all the stops to hype the aircraft, including offering "limited edition" bottles of Checkmate perfume.
"No fragrance, however, will mask how the Su-75 isn't a light tactical fighter as advertised, but rather a medium-weight fighter-bomber similar to the F-16V," Parachini wrote.
Of course, the RAND military hardware analyst failed to note what perfume had to do with a fighter.
A Western public relations firm would have provided attendees with limited edition aircraft-themed chess sets! Perhaps Sukhoi needs a better marketing team. Not only because it failed to come up with a better gimmick, but because to date, the orders aren't exactly piling up for it bargain basement fighter.
But the Rostec subsidiary may also need better engineers and designers because so far, it does seem that the Su-75 is the ultimate case of military vaporware. Russia has continued to suggest otherwise, but as it can hardly build its much-hyped Su-57 for its military, how is anyone to expect that the Checkmate will ever be produced for those export customers?
Author Experience and Expertise
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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