Judging by a number of hints and reservations, the promising Russian Su-75 (Checkmate) fighter is being created primarily for sale in the Middle East. What kind of buying country can we talk about, what opportunities are Russian manufacturers luring the customer with – and will this aircraft be in service with the Russian Air Force?
The demonstration of the prototype of the Russian Checkmate fighter jet at the Dubai Airshow 2021 marked the debut of this single-engine aircraft abroad. The new Checkmate, which also received the official, “boring” alphanumeric name of the Su-75, was presented in the presentation video of Rostec as a chess knight – a light piece that can suddenly change its course throughout a game of chess and give the player a beautiful and an unexpected victory.
It was in this vein that the potential of Checkmate was revealed to potential buyers at the airshow. In his advertising video, it was claimed that the new fighter was ready to fight in the sky both with the “pawns” of the enemy, the role of which was assigned to a very advanced and technological drone Akinci (“Akinci”) of Turkish production, and against the “king of the sky”, which became the recognizable in its silhouette, the American F-35.
This choice of air opponents for the Su-75 is not accidental. Rostec is positioning its offspring for a specific target audience: these are third world countries that, for one reason or another, either did not get into the F-35 program initially, or cannot count on access to it even in the future. Turkey, Iran, the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, India, the countries of Africa and Southeast Asia, possibly Latin American customers – this is a promising market for Checkmate sales. And this, of course, is not the NATO countries, which were reliably “fastened” to the gears of the American military-industrial complex through their bonded participation in the F-35 project.
We can say that the Russian manufacturer for the first time gave a clear hint of who exactly he sees as the first buyer of a promising car. The foreign premiere in the United Arab Emirates is indicative, the visit of the UAE Prime Minister to the fighter stand is indicative. Finally, the phrase of the head of Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, is also indicative: “The United Arab Emirates are already interested, they want to see and discuss the car in detail.” Hints of the Middle East market are scattered throughout the presentation video.
It was emphasized in every possible way that the architecture and design solutions used in Checkmate would be as open and “friendly” to customers as possible, and the status of the buyer could, under a number of conditions, be turned into the status of a licensed manufacturer of a new fighter.
In contrast to the aforementioned F-35 program, where the United States, using the example of Turkey, clearly showed that even the “official partnership” can be severely interrupted at the unilateral initiative of the United States itself, and for purely political reasons.
In addition, all types of its future weapons, which exist “in metal”, and not in the form of distant promising concepts, like the F-35, have already been presented at the Russian stand of Checkmate. Indeed, in fact, all delivered to the US Army and Navy, as well as the American allies 700 F-35, are only pre-production vehicles that still suffer from a mass of “childhood diseases” and, most likely, will require large-scale and expensive modernization in the future.
To be fair, it’s worth noting that Checkmate currently exists only as a prototype. At the Sukhoi plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, only a few machines are being assembled, which will be used in tests. The first flight is scheduled for 2023, deliveries to the customer – for 2026, and this with the most optimistic forecasts.
However, if we consider the materials already presented, the Russian prototype looks at least interesting. The Checkmate turned out to be unexpectedly large – the internal bays of this new Russian fighter were equal, if not superior, to those of the F-35. According to the announced data, Checkmate will be able to carry the Grom-E1 and Kh-59 Ovod air-to-ground missiles inside the fuselage, as well as the RVV-SD air-to-air missiles. All these weapons have already been used more than once and have proven themselves well in the mass of wars and conflicts and makes the Checkmate a versatile vehicle capable of striking both ground and air targets.
In addition to this, the Su-75, like its “big brother” Su-57, will have (as they promise) all the other qualities of a 5th generation fighter – super-maneuverability, stealth, multifunctionality, thrust-to-weight ratio and the ability to fly at supersonic speed without afterburner. More importantly, at the Dubai air show, the unmanned version of the Su-75 was also mentioned for the first time, which could become a new word in the use of heavy, shock UAVs, as well as pave a completely new path for the development of manned vehicles.
Until now, the development of UAVs and military manned aircraft went in different directions. Until recently, autonomous “brains” of drones could not “pull out” piloting in complex modes of modern air combat or at supersonic speed, and the delay in the signal from the operator did not allow such control to be carried out with due confidence remotely. Therefore, even the attack UAVs were slow and clumsy – and relied mainly on their stealth and surprise of a strike on an unprepared enemy.
Now both of these tasks have been practically accomplished. On the one hand, the artificial intelligence of aerial drones has already grown to the level of autonomous control even for supersonic flight or in conditions of maneuverable air combat. On the other hand, new means of communication allow the transfer of command of the drone to a remote operator without the risk of “losing the picture” and orientation.
For the first time, such technologies were tested on the Russian heavy attack UAV S-70 “Okhotnik”, which is currently being actively tested. The machine received the possibility of group use in conjunction with the new Russian Su-57 fighters. Several “Hunters” are said to be able to interact with a manned leader aircraft when the fighter’s wide radar field is used for target designation, and long-range weapons are used by the led “Hunters” on the forward edge, without the Su-57 entering the effective anti-air defense zone or enemy aircraft.
At Checkmate, this concept was further developed: the unmanned drone will, unlike the S-70, be built on the same platform and using the airframe and layout of the Su-75 itself. The silhouette of such a drone, devoid of the usual “canopy” of the cockpit, was also shown at an air show in Dubai. The presence of an unmanned version of Checkmate will significantly expand the possibilities of its combat use. In fact, its creation may be a sign of the coming into world practice of a new concept of “sixth generation fighters”, where the line between manned and unmanned aircraft will be rather arbitrary.
It already sounds in hints and statements that the Checkmate pilot, on the one hand, can himself transfer control to the on-board computer for a significant part of the functions of his aircraft, but as well as take over the piloting or combat use of any of the slave drones. Due to this, “piloting” becomes both a current abstraction and a convention of the location of the “biological” body of a military pilot.
So far, the only not completely clear question is why Checkmate is positioned exclusively as an export version of the fighter. The Russian Ministry of Defense does not comment at all on the possibility of adopting the Su-75 into service.
However, one can only remember that in exactly the same situation the path of another innovative development, the Pantsir self-propelled anti-aircraft missile-gun complex, began.
Having been at the testing stage since 1994, “Pantsir” was first exported – the UAE became its first buyer in 2009, and the supply of “Pantsir” was agreed upon back in 2003. But the Russian Ministry of Defense decided to accept the “Pantsir” into service only in 2012, after its delivery to foreign customers and after the new development proved to be excellent in long and difficult tests.
The usual way of any military machine is, first of all, the adoption into service in the country-manufacturer of the equipment.
As a rule, foreign customers pay attention to new models only after several years of their operation in the troops native to the equipment. Apparently, Rostec wants to convince the Russian Ministry of Defense to buy the Su-75 based on the results of the operation of this aircraft abroad.
The task is not trivial, however, as history shows, sometimes this happens. Indeed, strictly speaking, even the famous heavy fighter Su-30, in some massive quantity, entered the Russian Air Force much later than the Indian Air Force.
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