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Sukhoi Checkmate LTS - International Sales

Russia - Air Force2772500
Russia - Navy26480
North Korea252424
Saudi Arabia-500
At the IDEX-2017 exhibition in February 2017, Sergey Chemezov said that Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had agreed to work together to create a fifth generation fighter. It was planned to start work on the project in 2018, and its production should begin in seven to eight years. “Most likely, this project will be created on the basis of our MiG, based on the MiG-29 fighter - we will refine it to the level of a fifth generation fighter,” the general director of Rostec explained then. Nothing came of this project, which seems to have been a ploy to entice the Americans into selling the F-35 to UAE.

The head of Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, expressed the hope that the new single-engine fighter would be in demand both on the international market and on the part of the RF Ministry of Defense. "This development is our initiative. So far there have been no orders for this development. Today we decided to do it ourselves, because we see that there will be demand for these machines, including on the international market. I hope that this machine will be of interest and our Ministry of Defense," he said in an interview with the Russia-24 TV channel at the MAKS-2021 air show. Chemezov singled out India, the countries of the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Latin America among potential buyers. “First of all, we hope that this will be an export potential,” he stressed.

UAC hopes that the new light fighter and its unmanned version will be of interest to the Russian Aerospace Forces. "We hope that the Russian Aerospace Forces will show interest in this platform, <...> including [to] its unmanned version," the head of the UAC Yuri Slyusar said. He stressed that the aircraft is an initiative development, and now negotiations are underway with the military department as a potential customer.

The Russian Defense Ministry will order a new lightweight single-engine fifth-generation fighter Checkmate, Rostec head Sergei Chemezov told Interfax 20 July 2021. “Yes, of course,” he said in response to a related question from the agency. He stressed that this is an initiative development of Rostec, but the state corporation envisages deliveries not only to foreign, but also to the Russian military.

In the next 15 years, the company will produce 300 single-engine fighters. "The business plan is worth 300 aircraft. We expect this to happen in the next 15 years," Slyusar said. As the head of the UAC explained, this figure is due to the market analysis carried out by the UAC. "When I say the number 300, this is not just our dream, it is the indicator that was calculated specifically for countries, regions. We deeply researched the customer. The numbers that we name, we name responsibly," he said.

In a commercial dedicated to the new combat vehicle and distributed by Rostec, many foreigners appear, gazing with interest at the flying Russian new generation fighter jet. The explanation is simple. Russia proposes to create a fighter of the future in broad international cooperation. Each of the countries will be able to choose the most acceptable option for themselves and build such a combat aircraft that meets exactly its interests - in terms of price, technical quality and combat capabilities.

The target market for the new Russian aircraft, reportedly with an 18 ton maximum takeoff weight, might consist of current operators of the MiG-29, also with an 18-ton MTOW. The current users of the MiG-29, excluding those who obviously would not be in the market for a Russian product, include some 20 countries which operate about 500 MiG-29s [plus another half dozen plausible customers]. On top of the 200 MiG-20=9s operated by Russian forces, this is a respectable market of about 1,000 aircraft. Only a third of the 3,000 aircraft some have projected for the F-35, but a respectable production run nonetheless.

But the MiG-29 replacement market is also the target of the MiG-35, which is currently in production. The MiG-35 is an export version of the MiG-29M OVT (Fulcrum F), a further development of MiG-29K/KUB fighters. Some fraction of existing MiG-29 customers may purchase replacement MiG-35 aircraft in the 2020s, rather than await Checkmate deliveries in the 2030s. Egypt, for instance, may have a requirement to replace over 200 fighters, but the bulk of these replacement aircraft must be delivered prior to 2030, suggesting Checkmate may be late to market for this opportunity.

The Syrian Air Force, battered by a decade of war, may represent a considerable opportunity for the LTS. Stealth is becoming the regional standard. The F-35 is out of the question, and China did Syria no favors in the recent conflict, so a Russian offering is the obvious choice. Iran and Iraq may also represent non-trivial upside potential, though the Chinese FC-31 may present stiff competition. India operates a sizeable MiG-29 fleet, but Tejas or same other domestic product is likely the preferred replacement.

The total addressable world-wide market outside of Russia for the LTS is probably at least 300 aircraft, and possibly upwards of 700 aircraft. The former figure exceeds the 204 world-wide airframe sales of the Rafale [excluding France], while the later figure exceeds the total 592 aircraft production run of the Eurofighter Typhoon EF-2000. Rostec chief Sergei Chemezov said the Checkmate would cost roughly $25-30 million each, which is just a fraction of the price of some advanced European fighter jets like the Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen, to say nothing of Lockheed’s F-35, which is being sold for $ 80 million. Combat aircraft pricing is notoriously complicated, with the average unit costs of the entire combat ready package [weapons, spares, racing stripe, framistan, etc] typically running some multiple of the bare-bones airframe cost. The price quoted for Checkmate is too good to be true, so it probably is not.

The single-engine American F-35 and twin-jet Chinese FC-31 are frequently mentioned as competitors for the Checkmate. To these might be added the Turkish TF-X and the South Korean KF-X, under development with operational capabilities expected in the same timeframe as Checkmate. These aircraft are all considerably larger than the 18 ton [reported] Checkmate, ranging from the 22 ton F-35 to the 28 ton FC-31.

Dmitry Stefanovich, Research Fellow of the Center for International Security at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS) argued that Checkmate "has the chance to become a future bestseller worldwide. In effect, there are no advanced light aircraft on the market right now. America’s F-35 Lightning II is a capable fighter, but it’s expensive, relatively heavy, and most importantly, “politically charged,” given relations so often dictate exports. All that makes Russia’s Checkmate an interesting buy for a number of regions, such as parts of Asia and Africa – and even Latin America."

For what and for whom is it planned to "proactively", as stated in the news release, that is, for the money of the United Aircraft Corporation, to develop a light fighter? Indeed, until now, the Air Force command has not expressed the slightest interest in its creation. If the command of the Aerospace Forces continues to believe that single-engine light combat aircraft are a thing of the past irrevocably, then no matter how wonderful fighter the designers of the Sukhoi company have created on their own initiative, their work will be in vain.

Such a light single-engine combat aircraft may appear if, of course, the Russian Air Force takes an interest. It is far from evident that Sukhoi will be able to convince the Russian Air Force to become the launch customer. Rostec plans to market the aircraft, the design of which is still in the preliminary stages, to foreign customers and to secure investments. Such international customers may be eager to become the second customer for this aircraft, but none are likely to have much appetite for being the first customer. The launch customer could face substantial unexpected costs from having to debug a new design. The asserted commonality with the twin-jet Su-57, itself a work in progress, might mitigate some but not all such concerns.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 17:24:59 ZULU