Checkmate by Black Knight

Without doubt, the new fifth-generation Sukhoi light fighter the Checkmate became the main premiere of the MAKS-2021 airshow, which took place in Zhukovsky near Moscow at the end of July 2021.

The Debutante Ball

The social media campaign launched by Rostec's press service before the opening of MAKS-2021 was second to nearly none in the Russian military-industrial complex. When it became clear that it would be the premiere of a new fighter, the interest of aviation enthusiasts and specialists was piqued – new combat aircraft appear rarely, especially if they are made by one of the world’s leading producers. As if not wanting to distract attention from the premiere of the Checkmate, the rest of novelties presented at MAKS-2021 were mostly of a civilian nature. Although the point here, of course, is in the specializations taking shape in the main Russian exhibitions: MAKS is focused on civilian products and export versions of military products, while the ARMY Forum is dedicated to military products, including those for the domestic market.

Vladimir Pirozhkov, CEO of the KINETICA High Complexity Prototyping Centre, creator of the brand identity of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft, designer of several Russian spacecraft and artificial satellites:

– The Checkmate contains an unexpected combination of smooth and very sharp forms. The air intake under the fuselage looks tough, which could actually be good. This is how the new aviation aesthetics are implemented. Speaking of that, Su-57 and the Checkmate look like father and son; they belong to the same brand and their family resemblance is felt. However, the conflict between facetted and smooth outlines is worth working on. This is my primary doubt as a designer.

There is yet another point to mention here: no matter how the Checkmate is made, it will be trendy anyway, just because it is new and unique. The presentation was organized professionally, although it was a bit histrionic. The global community should react positively at least because a new player has appeared in such an exclusive segment.

However, this time MAKS provided a site for one of the year’s most significant premieres in the military aviation sphere. Officially presented to the public on July 20, the Sukhoi LTS (Light Tactical Aircraft is the formal name of the program), dubbed Checkmate for the international market and having an unofficial, unapproved Su-75 index, turned out to be a truly unique vehicle. What do we know about it so far?

The Sukhoi Checkmate is a single-engine fighter with a triangular wing and a V-shaped tail. Two all-flying surfaces installed at an angle, perform simultaneously roles of both horizontal and vertical empennage, and such a configuration reduces radar visibility.

The most important advantage in terms of development, production, and operation costs was the unification with the Su-57 in regard to the engine – the Checkmate in series is going to be equipped with the “second stage” engine of the Su-57, also known as “type 30”, which is undergoing tests at the moment. The nozzle of the engine is round, controlled, with measures applied to reduce visibility.

Great attention was also drawn to a detail which is quite unusual for a Russian fighter: the underbelly air intake, which, judging by the shape, is a diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI). This type is considered to be the most progressive, as it reduces radar visibility and weight, and simplifies design. A minor disadvantage of such a construction is that sometimes aircraft with a DSI have a slightly lower maximum speed due to the air intake optimization for working in more common modes.


Flight characteristics have been revealed:

  • maximum speed up to 1.8 speed of sound;
  • range up to 2,800 km (without a drop tank, it is possible to place additional tanks, both under the wing and in the internal weapons bay);
  • G-force up to 8g.

The armament is placed in three internal fuselage compartments – there are two front ones for one air-to-air missile each and a central one capable of accommodating either three air-to-air missiles or two bombs or air-to-ground missiles (the Kh-38 and Grom-1 missiles were placed in the compartment on the presented sample). A wide range of available armaments has been announced, probably corresponding to the Su-57 nomenclature. There are no specific details about the underwing pylons for armaments, but this option is available.

There was separately mentioned at the presentation the option of accommodation of a gun in the weapon bay as well as unguided weapons (bombs, rocket missiles) in the arsenal for “economical” destruction of ground targets under simple conditions. The declared total payload weight is up to 7,400 kg. Thus, in terms of armament, the Checkmate is almost as good as the much heavier F-35: the common load in the internal compartments of an American fighter is also two air-to-air missiles plus two bombs / air-to-ground missiles, the total payload weight being up to 8,160 kg.

The basic version of the fighter is a single-seat, but it is possible to develop a two-seat version and an unmanned/optionally manned version that will be able to operate in the same formation with manned Su-57 and Su-75 as a “Loyal Wingman”, which is an extremely popular concept for development of combat aviation nowadays. By the way, after the MAKS air show, sources in the military-industrial complex revealed to the TASS the plans to develop a two-seat, “commander” version of the Su-57.

The maiden flight of the Checkmate is scheduled for 2023, it should be made by the sample which was presented at the MAKS-2021, of course, after having been completed and with ground tests passed. The release of several more prototypes is planned for 2024–2025, and the readiness for series production is set for 2026–2027.

Open Ground

Such an aircraft is much needed, and the sooner the better. The fact is that the traditional and large niche of light fighters is almost empty in the world market. In the second half of the Cold War period, the concept of the ideal composition of the Air Force has been formed. According to it, the Air Force was composed of light and massive fighters and heavier “elite” vehicles. The American pair of a twin-engine F-15 and a single-engine F-16 can be considered as the “gold standard” since the aircraft were largely unified, including the key operational component – the engine. At the same time, the single-engine version was much cheaper, not even in purchase, but in operation.

In the USSR, due to several internal economic and technical reasons, both the Su-27 and the MiG-29 were developed with twin-engines and not unified with each other, which may have indirectly affected the development of the MiG family. Representatives of this family are much less frequently exported and are almost absent in the Russian Aerospace Forces. China, taking into consideration American and Soviet experiences, developed with Russian assistance the single-engine J-10 largely unified with the Su-27/J-11/16 family, including the engine standartization.

With the fifth generation, the tradition was broken. The only country with two fifth-generation fighters in service was the United States, but the second fighter, the F-35, was developed much later than the F-22 and turned out to have little to do with it. Besides, requirements of the military made the fighter far from being light and cheap. Programs in other countries, capable of holding the development of only one fighter, focused on creation of a twin-engine aircraft (for more information, see The New Defence Order. Strategy, issue No. 3 (68) 2021).

In Russia, a unique situation arose when, based on the experience of developing the Su-57, it became possible to create a single-engine fighter right after it, the one maximally unified (and therefore simpler, cheaper and faster to design, manufacture, and operate). Many of its components can either be borrowed (in this area it is important not to forget about software) or scaled (for example, airborne radar with active electronically scanned array with a reduced number of modules).

Thus, the Checkmate can be promoted in the market both as a separate aircraft and as part of a package offer with the Su-57 for wealthy buyers – in this case, the synergy effect works, both aircraft do not compete but strengthen each other's positions. There are simply no competitors with such an offer in the market. The F-35 is perhaps cheaper than the most expensive Western fighters, and its purchase is often accompanied by political obligations – the termination of the contract with Turkey is a good example. Even close allies are sold the F-35 with many delays, for example, contracts with Arab monarchies of the Gulf are openly opposed by Israel. Chinese JF-17 and Swedish JAS-39 fighters are modestly represented in the market and are unlikely to be successful in the long term. The United States continue to offer its allies with modest means upgraded versions of the F-16, but most of these countries would not buy Russian weapons anyway for political reasons.

Thus, a wide market of Asian countries, the Middle East, Latin America, and the growing market of Africa is open for the Checkmate. According to Yuri Slyusar, the Head of the UAC, the business plan for the first 15 years is to produce 300 fighters. In the promotional materials, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, and Argentina were specifically mentioned as interested countries. The United Arab Emirates hold a special place as potential partners and possible customers for the Checkmate.

We can promise, particularly for our traditional partners, that it is not just a purchase but also participation in the project itself: in its modernization, adaptation, aftersales technical service on the territory of the customer's country, including even production programs

Yuri Slyusar, Head of the United Aircraft Corporation

Without a doubt, the new fighter will find a place for itself in the Russian Aerospace Forces. Sukhoi LTS is urgently needed as a mass scale addition to the Su-57, which cannot replace all the fourth-generation fighters in service.



Author: Alexnader Ermakov
©New Defence Order. Strategy  №1 (72) 2022

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