Correction: A currency conversion from Russian roubles to U.S. dollars was miscalculated. That value is now updated in the story.
ZHUKOVSKY, Russia — Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi showed off its new Checkmate jet during the MAKS 2021 aviation show last week, presenting it as a fifth-generation fighter.
The unveiling of the light, single-engine aircraft comes amid the country’s current work on the Su-57, a heavy fighter jet also developed by Sukhoi. The Su-57 had its first flight test in 2010, but crashed during another 2019 test. That same year, the Russian military bought 76 of the planes, with delivery expected to being by 2022.
A spokesman for Rostec, which owns Sukhoi parent company United Aircraft Corporation, told Defense News that foreign countries have expressed interest in the Checkmate. Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov said the firm is targeting Middle Eastern and African countries as potential customers.
“The machine can perform a wide range of tasks and is not whimsical in maintenance,” the spokesman added. “Moreover, the aircraft has an open architecture and can be assembled in several configurations, configured in accordance with the desires of the customer.
Local and foreign media described the Checkmate presented at the air show in Zhukovsky as reminiscent of the American-made F-35 jet. Chemezov told reporters that the new plane will cost between $25 million and $30 million. An F-35 costs about $90 million.
The conservative online news outlet Vzglyad called the aircraft a “Su-57 for the poor,” adding that “perhaps it is a kind of constructor, an aircraft ‘Lego,’ a jet originally assembled from the already tested blocks. A sort of ‘leftover,’ inherited by the OAK [United Aircraft Corporation] from the gigantic funds allocated by the state for the creation of the Su-57.”
For his part, the head of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, Ruslan Pukhov, wonders how long it will take for Sukhoi to deliver the new jet, telling Gazeta.Ru that the country needs it “today.”
According to Rostec, the MAKS 2021 show “exceeded” expectations, with Russia’s weapons exports agency Rosoboroexport — which is managed by Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov — signing 13 foreign contracts worth €1 billion (U.S. $1.2 billion). In total, Rostec’s various subsidiaries signed contracts worth 230 billion roubles (U.S. $3 billion) with foreign customers.
The show took place July 20-25 and saw 831 companies from 56 countries in attendance. For its part, Rostec presented more than 500 civilian and military technologies, including drones and engines. But while the event fulfilled its commercial purpose, it was not without a political message.
The daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta pointed out that visitors at the Checkmate stand were able to see imagery of the British warship HMS Defender, which Russia reportedly fired upon in June while it transited the Black Sea. While Russia said it was trying to force the vessel what it claims are its territorial waters around Crimea, Britain denies this account of events.
Alexander Bratersky is the Russia correspondent at Defense News. He has covered U.S.-Russian relations, NATO and Middle Eastern affairs, and Russian policy in Syria. He previously worked at the Moscow Times and Izvestia as a political reporter, as well as RIA Novosti as a Washington correspondent. He also dabbles in stand-up comedy.