The Sukhoi SU-75 Checkmate, also designated as the Light Tactical Aircraft is a single-engine, stealth fighter aircraft under development by Sukhoi. The Sukhoi Design Bureau has also designated the aircraft as T-75. The aircraft is a derivative of the Russian SU-57 aircraft, being developed for export akin to the US F-35 Lightning II and the Chinese Shenyang Gyrfalcon J-31. It is a Russian effort to offer a cheaper fighter to cost-sensitive customers.
Russia officially debuted the Su-75 ‘Checkmate’ during the Moscow Air Show 2021. Subsequently, Moscow showcased the ‘Checkmate’ light tactical aircraft on the international stage for the first time at the Dubai Air Show 2021. Reports from local media indicate that production of up to four prototypes is now underway at the Sukhoi plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Three variations, i.e. a single-seater, a two-seater, and an unmanned model are being produced. The aircraft is planned for a commercial debut in 2027.
The Su-75 aircraft is being showcased at the World Defence Show 2024 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to draw interest from potential partners or customers. The project needs funding from external sources and Russia sees India as a prospective development partner and a potential buyer for the aircraft. Recent reports indicate that Russia is wooing India to come on board with the announcement of cost cuts. The proposal needs to be analysed comprehensively.
Aircraft Design Features and Performance.
Recent reports indicate that the Su-75 features an open architecture and unique artificial intelligence technologies. The aircraft is reported to have features like diverter-less supersonic inlet (DSI), v-tail and internal weapons bays to reduce radar signature. The initial design has been modified with changes to the fuselage sides, and air intakes to further reduce the radar signature. Relevant performance characteristics and design features are as follows: –
Performance. The Su-75 Checkmate is designed to fly at Mach 1.8 to a range of 2,800 – 3,000 km. It is announced that the maximum take-off weight is 26,000 kg (57,320 lbs), including a payload capacity of 7,400 kg (16,300 lbs). It is also claimed that the aircraft can fly and engage targets in combat at high altitudes (40,000 ft/12,000 m) or higher.
Engine. The power plant appears to be the same as the one that powers the Su-57 aircraft. It is estimated to have a thrust of 107.9 kN (24,300 lbf) dry and 171.7 kN (38,600 lbf) in afterburner.
Cockpit. Reportedly the cockpit layout seems to be identical to the Su-57 with a glass cockpit consisting of two 38 cm (15 in) main multi-functional LCDs. The cockpit also has a wide-angle (30° by 22°) head-up display (HUD).
Avionics. The aircraft will share the same components and avionics as the Su-57 as a cost-reduction mechanism. The prototype Su-75 was built with an active phased array radar, but the radar design bureau plans to develop a low-cost AESA radar for the aircraft. The jet is also expected to include a 360-degree optical and radio reconnaissance system, an internal electronic jamming system, an optical sighting system, and a ‘broad-range communication system.’
Armament. The Rostec chief executive disclosed that the Su-75 will carry more than 7 tonnes of air-to-air and air-to-surface armaments and will be capable of striking several targets at a time. The fighter will also feature an internal weapons bay with five missiles and a cannon and can simultaneously engage up to six targets.
Purpose. It has become a trend these days to develop a new fighter aircraft for domestic use in one’s defence forces and at the same time bring out a cheaper variant for export. The US F-22 Raptor / F-35 Lightning II, and Chinese J-20 / J-31 aircraft are such examples. The SU-75 Checkmate aircraft is a low-cost variant of SU-57 aircraft designed essentially for export. Officially designated as an LTA (Lightweight Tactical Aircraft), the project was nicknamed “Checkmate” early in development.
Development. The aircraft is currently being developed at Sukhoi, a subsidiary of the United Aircraft Corporation (a part of Russian state-owned Rostec). A static non-flying prototype of the aircraft was unveiled at Russia’s flagship biennial International Air and Space Salon (MAKS), in 2021. Later in the same year, a model was displayed internationally at the Dubai Airshow in the UAE. The Checkmate’s maiden flight was first scheduled for 2023 and then slipped to 2024, with initial deliveries planned for 2026–2027.
Potential Operators. Cash-strapped Russia is in dire need of funding for the project. It is desperately looking for Prospective partners and potential buyers. Sukhoi estimates the demand at 300 planes and is anticipating that Argentina, India, Vietnam and Iran will become the primary export destinations for the aircraft, with some sales in the African market (Maybe Nigeria). The jet has also been pitched for export to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. From the outset, Moscow has actively promoted the Su-75 Checkmate aircraft to attract potential customers. No country has openly committed to purchasing this fighter jet so far.
Production. On the eve of the Dubai Airshow 2023 exhibition, the press service of the Rostec State Corporation, Russia’s government arms production organization announced the groundwork for manufacturing the Su-75 ‘Checkmate’ stealth fighter aircraft. This is a crucial step in the production process for its single-engine fifth-generation fighter jet. As disclosed by UAC, the development of aircraft prototypes is expected to be completed in 2024-2025, followed by a pilot batch in 2026. The serial deliveries of this new fighter aircraft are scheduled to commence between 2026 and 2027. The Production is forecast to be 300 planes over 15 years.
Production and Sales Strategy. Russian aerospace industrial leaders claim that the aircraft can be developed, and mass-produced, for export by the end of the decade. This confidence is based on the fact that the investment in the earlier SU-57 project can jump-start the Checkmate program. It seems that the Russian strategy involves international cooperation for production, keeping key technologies at home while outsourcing certain parts and assemblies to different countries.
Adverse Effects of the Ukraine War. Russia is facing severe economic, trade and export sanctions due to the conflict with Ukraine. Besides the direct effect on potential export sales by Russia, it is also affecting the import of semiconductors and high-tech machining equipment. Su-75 Checkmate development and production could be delayed due to these international sanctions. In addition, the war has created a perception that the Russian war equipment has grossly underperformed during the conflict. This perception may influence the decision-making process of the prospective buyers against the Russian aircraft, no matter what features it is claimed to have.
Recent reports suggest that Russia is wooing India with the lure of reduced cost. The debate amongst the security and defence analysts, about the Indian force structure planning, and India benefitting from joining one camp or the other, is quite animated. Several factors need to be deliberated while considering the offer. Some of these are as follows: –
• The project has not matured yet and the aircraft is not combat-proven. A detailed evaluation would have to be carried out. Russian willingness for full scrutiny and evaluation of the aircraft at this stage is doubtful.
• The features of the aircraft and the claimed performance characteristics need to be compared with other aircraft of the same class available in the world market.
• How the aircraft compares with the aircraft with India’s adversaries is an important defining aspect.
• The cost of the project and procurement is a major factor for consideration.
• India is trying to develop its fifth generation AMCA aircraft. The short and long-term effect of this venture on the push to self-reliance needs to be deliberated.
• Getting into the project for a low-cost option would not bring in the latest and essential technology. The gains from the project in terms of technology transfer need to be evaluated.
• The Russian ability to deliver the promises (capacity to produce and supply) is in doubt due to the effects of the Ukraine war and Sanctions.
• Adding another type to India’s already diverse inventory would be a cause for apprehension.
• India had earlier agreed to co-develop SU-57 under the FGFA project but reportedly pulled out due to issues related to cost, time delay, work and technology sharing etc. Getting back to a SU-75 project which is essentially a derivative of SU-57 will need allaying of previous concerns.
• To some extent, the world geopolitical situation and aspects related to international cooperation etc. would also come into play.
• Also, the recent wars have created a dilemma in the minds of defence force structure planners. The dilemma is about the investment in the new generation aircraft or the modern drones.
The bottom line is that the offer would require a detailed analysis and deliberation of the dynamics and concerns. A comprehensive and critical cost-benefit analysis would be necessary. The deal is not a cut-and-dry case and if at all not likely to happen in a hurry.