It’s major subsystems — the engine and the radar — are still not ready yet, but that isn’t stopping the United Aircraft Corporation and the Sukhoi Aircraft Company of Russia from making a big marketing push at Dubai 2021 for its cutting edge stealth fighter.
Dubbed Checkmate, and also sometimes referred to as the Su-75 or the Light Tactical Aircraft (LTS), it represents an effort by Moscow to stake out a portion of the export fighter aircraft market, AINonline reported.
The other two most stealthy single-engine designs — the Swedish JAS-39E/F Gripen and the Lockheed Martin F-35 — both cost considerably more than the $25 million to $30 million that the Checkmate designers quote for their program.
It is the first time outside of Russia, that the new single-engine Checkmate fighter graces a display platform at Dubai 2021, scheduled for November 14-18.
Dubai is slated to be the world’s largest aviation trade show since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing together military leaders and defense CEOs hoping to cement industrial partnerships and ring in major aircraft deals, the report said.
But while about 300 officials from the US State and Defense Departments are anticipated to attend the event, senior Pentagon leaders will be largely absent, as the Biden administration struggles to find qualified candidates for key acquisition positions and get nominees through the confirmation process.
In another first, Israel will participate in the air show, following the 2020 Abraham Accords that normalized relations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.
That could open the door for the three countries to entrench their partnership more deeply, said Mira Resnick, the deputy assistant secretary of state for regional security, who will arrive at the show on Sunday, the report said.
“President Biden has expressed his full support for strengthening these arrangements, expanding them around the world. The Dubai Airshow really represents the latest development in that effort,” she told Breaking Defense in a Nov. 12 interview. “I do hope that we see more overt security cooperation between Israel and her new partners.”
Meanwhile, the public briefings on the program all contained few specifics of where the Sukhoi design team and UAC believe they could market the Checkmate, but other material released to date shows that the primary target customer is the UAE — hence its appearance at this year’s Dubai show.
Sergei Chemezov, a long-time ally and confidante of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of Russia’s Rostec defense industrial holding company, proposed cooperation on the development of the Checkmate to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2017 during the IDEX show at the beginning of that year, the report said.
Nine months later, at the Dubai 2017 Airshow, the two countries scheduled the signature of an agreement to share the cost of developing the project.
However, a change in US policy announced on the eve of the Dubai event reversed a previous position on F-35 export sales.
The change would allow allied Arab states to acquire the US aircraft. The Emirates’ ability to purchase the same fighter as the Israeli Air Force torpedoed the Russia-UAE project, the report said.
At least until now, that is.
News that the US$23 billion agreement for the UAE to acquire up to 50 of the US stealth aircraft might have derailed due to concerns over Abu Dhabi’s growing military partnership with China appears to have added momentum to the Russian push on Checkmate.
Beijing has sent such a large volume of defense equipment to the UAE, raising concern by US officials that the Chinese plan to establish a base in the Emirates — a step that could sink the entire deal.
Following a policy review earlier in the year, the Biden Administration said the F-35 sale could move forward.
But since that time questions have surfaced about the ability of the Emiratis to secure the Lockheed Martin aircraft’s technical details away from any Chinese prying eyes, the report said.
The package for the UAE includes the F-35s plus 18 of the General Atomics MQ-9B Reaper drones, weapons, and other items, all of which won approval in the 11th hour of the Trump Administration.
Notwithstanding the big opening for the Checkmate, many questions remain about both the marketing strategy and the airplane’s technical capabilities.
Clearly, the Checkmate’s lack of record with the Russian military hampers its prospects.
The F-35B entered service with the US Marine Corps in July 2015, followed by the US Air Force F-35A in August 2016 and the US Navy F-35C in February 2019. The F-35 was first used in combat in 2018 by the Israeli Air Force.
The design announced at the Moscow Aviation and Space Expo (MAKS) unveiling in July calls for an aircraft with a 40,000-pound takeoff weight and a thrust-to-weight ratio of not less than 1:1.
That mandates the use of the new izdeliye engine now in developmental test; however, the developers have not set an end date for its availability, the report said.
The aircraft is also supposed to retain the “supermaneuverability” aspect historically emphasized in the Sukhoi Su-27/30/35 family of fighter designs. The engine would come equipped with an axisymmetrical thrust vectoring nozzle.
Its maximum speed would exceed Mach 2.0 and it would be capable of short takeoff and landing performance with the use of the nozzle, according to a report by TASS, the Russian state news agency.
Checkmate is based on the latest stealth technology and is equipped with an internal compartment for air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, the report said. The fighter will have a payload of more than 7 tons and will be able to hit up to six targets at the same time.
A teaser film (posted above) released a week before its July launch shows a number of air force pilots from several countries. Each person sets aside their regular tasks, starts wearing a flying suit, and joins the plane on an airfield.
Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, doesn’t see the Russian jet as a threat to the F-35 or other US or European-made fourth-generation fighters on the market.
“The higher up the weapon system, the more you’re buying a strategic relationship. Do people really want a strategic relationship with Putin’s Russia?” Aboulafia said. “It’s not like there’s any feeling that they’re offering cutting edge stuff.”
China, however, is a different story.
There is speculation that China might be willing to undercut its competitors on weapons prices in order to enhance its own strategic goals, particularly improving its access to Middle Eastern oil or ports in the Persian Gulf.
And unlike Russia, China’s economic clout makes it an attractive partner, Aboulafia said.
“There are some products they offer with few strings attached, like drones, most notably, that are going to have appeal. And the Chinese probably regard that as a way of getting in there as a weapons provider,” he said.
While the UAE deal remains in limbo, other Gulf countries could see the show as an opportunity to signal their interest in the F-35 to the United States.
“I think the biggest question is what the prospects are for selling the F-35 to Arab countries beyond the UAE,” said defense consultant Loren Thompson.
“The F-35 is becoming a global standard for tactical aircraft, so there are obviously countries that can afford it and would like it, but haven’t yet been given the opportunity.”
Those nations could include Qatar, which is set to receive its first F-15QA from Boeing this year, and Kuwait, which took delivery of its final F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in September.
Sources: AINonline.com, Breaking Defense, Mediarun Search, TASS, EurAsian Times