'Checkmate': Russia unveils new fighter jet to rival US F-35 stealth fighter

Russia unveiled a prototype of a new Sukhoi fifth-generation fighter jet at its annual MAKS air show

Russia's new 'Checkmate' fighter jet

Russia unveiled a prototype of a new Sukhoi fifth-generation fighter jet at its annual MAKS air show with an eye on export markets.

The warplane, given the project name "Checkmate", is likely to be touted as a rival to the US F-35 stealth fighter, said Oleg Panteleyev, head of the Aviaport analytical agency.

Reports first surfaced that the jet was being manufactured in May last year.

According to the launch video it was developed "in record time".

(Photograph:Reuters)

Plane hard to detect

The warplane is expected to take to the skies in 2023 with a first batch due to be produced in 2026, Yury Slyusar, head of the United Aircraft Corporation said.

Russia plans to produce 300 of the aircraft over 15 years once serial production begins.

Rostec, Russia's state aerospace and defence conglomerate, said the plane was hard to detect and would have low operating costs.

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'It would cost $25 million to $30 million'

Rostec's chief, Sergei Chemezov, said it would cost $25 million to $30 million, the RIA news agency reported. Moscow expected demand from nations in the Middle East, Asia Pacific region and Latin America, he said.

"Our aim is to make the cost per flight hour as low as possible, to make it economical not only to buy but also to operate," said Slyusar.

Russia has successfully produced prototypes of new weapons systems in recent years but has sometimes struggled to move to serial production.

Under president Vladimir Putin, it has invested heavily in military aircraft and new armaments, both for its own armed forces and also to boost export revenue from weapon sales. Many of its new weapons are still based on Soviet-era technology from the Cold War.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Russia already has fourth-generation fighter jets

Russia already has fourth-generation fighter jets - the heavy-class Sukhoi Su-27 and light-class Mikoyan MiG-29. It has one heavy-class fifth generation fighter jet, the Su-57, but no light-class equivalent, Panteleyev said.

"Light-class fighter jets are more in demand in the world than heavy-class ones - they are cheaper and more suitable for states that don't have large territories," he told Reuters.

In 2011, Russia used the MAKS air show to unveil the Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter.

United Aircraft, which is part of Rostec, owns the Sukhoi aircraft manufacturer that dates back to the former Soviet era.

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Fifth-generation light single-engine fighter

Few details had previously emerged about the plane that was developed by defence and technology giant Rostec and the state-controlled United Aircraft Corporation.

"Our task is for this plane to be offered en masse to customers starting from 2026," general director of the United Aircraft Corporation, Yury Slyusar, said.

Rostec describes the aircraft as a fifth-generation light single-engine fighter jet that incorporates "innovative solutions" including artificial intelligence.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Price lower than US F-35 jet

The jet can attack up to six targets simultaneously on land, air or sea, "even under conditions of strong electronic interference," the manufacturers said.

It is also capable of carrying drones and launch them during flights. 

Slyusar said he expected nearly 300 orders in the next 15 years mainly from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America for a price "seven times lower" than the F-35.

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Auto-pilot version

Slyusar said the plane is capable of destroying "fifth generation foreign aircraft" and "is designed to withstand the sixth generation systems that may appear in the coming decades".

An auto-pilot version is also being developed.

Slyusar said he believed Putin was "pleased" when he saw the plane.

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Putin's plan

Putin praised Russia's aviation industry as he unveiled the biennial MAKS air show earlier Tuesday.

"Russian aviation has great potential for development, and our aircraft industry continues to create new competitive aircraft," Putin said.

Putin has made investing in the army and developing new weaponry a priority over his two-decade rule. 

Russia has boasted of developing several weapons that circumvent existing defence systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.

(Photograph:Reuters)

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