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Air Warfare

Checkmate marks latest Russian move in AI-centric fighter design

21st July 2021 - 11:08 GMT | by Leonid Nersisyan in Moscow

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A prototype of Checkmate was rolled out for display on 20 July at the MAKS-2021 aviation show in Moscow. (Photo: Sukhoi)

There was razzmatazz at MAKS-2021 as Sukhoi lifted the lid on Checkmate with the export market in mind.

To much fanfare, the new Russian fifth-generation Checkmate Light Tactical Aircraft (LTA) was unveiled on 20 July at the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon in Moscow.

A prototype of the prospective single-engine Sukhoi aircraft was demonstrated first to Russian President Vladimir Putin and then to industry experts and journalists.

The aircraft has an aerodynamic design without a horizontal tail, an under-fuselage air intake and avionics similar to those on the Su-57.

The design of the aircraft also includes a V-shaped all-moving tailfin and a single Izdelie 30 engine (which is also in development for the Su-57) with thrust vectoring. In addition, the aircraft has an auxiliary power unit to provide autonomous power for onboard systems.  

According to official announcements at MAKS-2021, Checkmate has a maximum payload of 7,400kg and its flight range without external fuel tanks is 2,900km. It can manoeuvre at up to 8G with a maximum speed of Mach 1.8.

The aircraft has a low radar cross-section and a modern onboard EW system, as well as an AESA radar plus optical and radio reconnaissance stations. The AESA radar can provide simultaneous attack data on up to six targets.

In stealth mode, the internal compartment of the fighter can accommodate five air-to-air missiles. The fighter can carry the KAB-250LG-E laser-guided munition and the KO29BE glide bomb.

Checkmate features no horizontal tail, an under-fuselage air intake and a V-shaped stabilator. (Photo: Leonid Nersisyan)

Sukhoi notes that Checkmate is equipped with an AI system, which determines the readiness of the aircraft before the flight, performs real-time diagnostics of the aircraft and acts as a copilot, helping the pilot perform combat operations. In addition, an unmanned version of the fighter, which can operate both independently and as part of a combat team, is being developed.

The LTA is also equipped with the Matreshka automated logistic support system, which allows personnel training, reduces cost and increases the efficiency of after-sales service. Matreshka is likely to resemble the Automatic Logistics Information System software on the F-35 fighter. It is integrated with a predictive analytics system, so it should be possible to forecast maintenance for individual aircraft.

Yury Slyusar, CEO of Sukhoi’s parent company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), said during MAKS-2021 that LTA was under development for just over a year, accelerated by using supercomputers. The first flight is planned for 2023, and initial deliveries to customers in 2026. UAC expects to sell at least 300 fighters of this type.

Sukhoi claims to have created Checkmate proactively without state support, and the manufacturer makes no secret of its ambitions to export the aircraft. The aircraft has an open architecture, meaning that Sukhoi would tailor the aircraft for each customer.

Sergey Chemezov, CEO of defence conglomerate Rostec, claimed the fighter has a unit cost of $25 million to $30 million — if true, Checkmate would provide serious competition to fighters such as the JAS-39C/D Gripen (unit cost $60 million, according to Shephard Defence Insight), F-16V ($63 million), Rafale ($110 million) and to a lesser extent the F-35A ($89 million).  

As for particular export customers, it is worth noting that Russia and the UAE agreed in 2017 to engage in joint development of a fifth-generation light fighter. Indeed, a promotional video for the LTA released during MAKS-2021 puts the Gulf country at the top of a list of potential buyers, ahead of India, Vietnam and Argentina.  

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