LTS Checkmate aircraft breakthrough at MAKS
The 15th International Aviation and Space Salon MAKS-2021, which began on Tuesday June 15 at Zhukovsky, near Moscow, featured the sensational debut of the newest Russian Light Tactical aircraft (LTS in Russian) named “The Checkmate”. The fighter was developed by the world famous Sukhoi company, a United Aircraft Corporation (USC) subsidiary, now part of the Rostec Corporation. The single engined machine has been labelled an export-oriented fifth generation platform able to perform at the leading edge of technology.
The aircraft has received unprecedent international interest due to Rostec’s unique aggressive marketing presentation which used to be more common in the West than in Russia. Since Soviet Union times, Russian military products have been domestically oriented, first coming into service with the national Armed Forces. Typically, after a number of years, they receive a so called “export image passport” to get a permit for international sales. The only exception might have been the Pantsir SHORADS developed by the Shipunov KBP Design Bureau (nowadays the High Precision Weapons Holding subsidiary) for the United Arab Emirates worth US $760 million. Today,the Pantsir family systems are in service with the Russian Army and Navy and have been sold internationally – but its first user was the UAE Armed Forces.
The Checkmate was developed by Sukhoi in just four years – thanks to digital design – to become a new fifth generation combat platform (or system, in Russian). According to the Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov in his latest interview, the aircraft was designed to employ stealth technology in combination with high flight performance characteristics. He claimed “the aircraft is equipped with advanced avionics and the most spacious internal weapons compartments in its class,” being capable of carrying “up to five air-to-air missiles of various ranges and other aviation weapons in an inconspicuous configuration” inside the airframe. The aircraft maximum combat load is claimed to be 7,400 kilograms and the flight range without additional fuel tanks is estimated at 2,900 kilometers.
The Checkmate has been designed as a high-tech intelligent aviation platform. Due to an open digital architecture the aircraft can be tailored for a specific customer demand to enjoy a high potential for further upgrades. According to Mr. Chemezov, “the Checkmate is a “light” aviation system for solving most combat tasks with minimal costs”. The modern on-board equipment is suitable for air combat and ground target strikes. It employs an active phased array radar, which allows attacking targets even in conditions of strong interference. At the same time, the onboard electronic suppression and self-defence system allows the aircraft to escape detection and protects it from enemy attack. “The Checkmate can employ a full range of weapons to destroy any air, land or sea targets including the most advanced means of air defence”- added Mr. Chemezov.
The future system development includes an unmanned version of The Checkmate. The UAVs could be used in combat together with conventional machines, said the Rostec CEO.
The Checkmate presentation to the Russian President Vladimir Putin took place on July 20th, being followed by enormous numbers of the foreign delegations to make the Checkmate pavilion the busiest one at MAKS-2021. Various potential customers from the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific and Latin America showed interest.
Mr. Chemezov also mentioned an after sales system with the marketing name Matryoshka which is intended “to organize personnel training, plan maintenance with high accuracy and deliver components in a timely manner. The solution will reduce the cost of after-sales service, increase its efficiency and ensure a high level of combat readiness of the fleet even during high-intensity flights.”
The Checkmate was available for journalists and experts to witness its futuristic concept of composite materials, glass cockpit and a thrust vectoring engine.
The Sukhoi specialists have been optimistic about The Checkmate sales prospects. They claim it could become a kind of MiG-21 successor with similar production numbers. The single engine fighter named “Fishbed” by NATO was the world’s most produced combat aircraft with more than 14,000 units in the USSR, Czechoslovakia, India and China in the period from 1959 to 2012.
According to Aleksandr Mikheev, Rosoboronexport CEO, a number of international partners have expressed their interest “in the newest Checkmate light tactical aircraft.” He added that several potential customers were shown the aircraft live and even had a chance to sit in the cockpit.
Perhaps The Checkmate could repeat the Fishbed success story in a new century. The local media mentioned an estimated price for a Checkmate of around US $25-30 million – considerably less than western competitors. According to Yury Borisov, the Russian Vice-Prime minister responsible for defence industry, the so called “anchor customer” for Checkmate has already been determined for an initial sale.
More generally at the show, the head of the Russian state mediator in defence trade, pointed out that Rosoboronexport had used MAKS-2021 productively by “signing 13 export contracts for the supply of Russian military products worth more than 1 billion Euros.”
Mr. Mikheev also added that Rosoboronexport has already signed in 2021 various contracts worth more than US $5 billion, with 80% share being related for aviation and air defence equipment.
The company’s top selling products include Su-30SME aircraft, Mi-35M and Mi-17V5 helicopters, the Protivnik (“Adversary”) radar, the Verba (“Willow”) MANPADS, as well as modern aviation weapons and a number of armored vehicles and automotive equipment.