When it unveiled the new 5th generation light combat aircraft in July 2021, the Russian corporation Rostec did not hide the fact that it intended to export the Su-75 “Checkmate” to several countries, including Vietnam, Argentina, the United Arab Emirates, and India. And to establish the economic case to convince these four nations, it was estimated that the cost of this plane would be “only” $30 million, with a cost of ownership up to seven times lower than that of an American F-35A.
As a reminder, the Su-75 is supposed to be the first single-engine Russian plane since the MiG-23 “Flogger.” It is also expected to weigh 18 tonnes when it takes off. This “5th generation” aircraft ought to be able to reach a height of 16,500 metres and fly at a speed of Mach 1.8 when it is in the air. Along with an infrared watch and a KOEPS-75 targeting pod, it will be equipped with an AESA X-band radar. Last but not least, its hold can accommodate up to 7.5 tonnes’ worth of munitions, including rockets, bombs, and missiles. In 2023, it will make its maiden flight, as per the maker.
In spite of this, and for the time being, at least, it appears that the Russian Aerospace Forces are the only organisation interested in this Sukhoi [a subsidiary of Rostec]-designed aircraft to complement their Su-57 “Felon.” Even though rumours of a purchase have been circulating, [especially on the Russian side] Vietnam has yet to show much interest, and Argentina no longer has the means to pursue its objectives, even to the point of abandoning efforts to acquire Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder.
Rostec and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been in conversation for quite some time about the possibility of building a new light combat aircraft together. A mockup of the Su-57 fighter plane that Rostec had developed was also showcased at the Dubai Air Show in 2021. At the moment, the primary objective of Abu Dhabi’s government is to conclude a deal with the French business Dassault Aviation to purchase eighty Rafale F4 fighter jets. The acquisition of the F-35A aircraft has been placed on hold for the time being.
To this day, India has refused to issue a statement condemning the conflict in Ukraine, even as it has greatly increased its purchases of Russian oil at prices lower than the market average [28% of the quantities imported, or 1.27 million barrels per day]. This is done to bring down inflation [and consequently to maintain food security] and to re-export a portion of it [after it has been refined] to countries in the West.
In spite of the crippling sanctions on Russia, India is continuing to work closely with Russia on various joint initiatives. In particular, the S-400 anti-aircraft defence system, the development of the Brahmos anti-ship missile, and the manufacturing of AK-203 assault rifles all fall under this category.
Can we build cooperation around the Su-75 Checkmate, given the current circumstances? Rostec holds that view. In light of this, an executive of the conglomerate revealed to the Russian news agency TASS that an offer would be made to the Indian authorities during the international Aero India show, which will start accepting attendees on February 13 in Bangalore.
“In particular, we intend to invite our Indian partners to join the Checkmate light tactical fighter project,” the source said. It remains to be seen what response will be given to this offer.
Moscow “on-boarded” New Delhi in its Su-57 “Felon” combat aircraft programme in the past [T-50 PAK FA at the time and FGFA, which stands for Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft in India]. However, the development costs increased due to the specifications requested by the Indian Air Force. As a result, Russia demanded up to seven billion dollars from India and was dissatisfied with the manner in which this cooperation was taking place due to a lack of access to certain technical data.
However, even if Russia reforms its strategy in light of the lessons learned from this experience, it does not necessarily imply that India will participate in the “Checkmate” initiative. On the one hand, it initiated the purchase of 110 multi-role combat aircraft because it anticipates economic and technological gains from the call for bids [which, however, has been in progress for more than four years]. On the other hand, it has given Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) the responsibility of carrying out the AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) programme, which should result in the production of a fighter bomber of the fifth generation.