(This was originally posted in Reuters by Gleb Stolyarov and Tom Balmforth)
President Vladimir Putin inspected a prototype of a new Sukhoi fifth-generation fighter jet on Tuesday that Russia unveiled at its annual MAKS air show with an eye on export markets. The warplane, given the project name “Checkmate”, is likely to be touted as a rival to the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter, said Oleg Panteleyev, head of the Aviaport analytical agency. The warplane is expected to take to the skies in 2023 with a first batch due to be produced in 2026, Yury Slyusar, head of the United Aircraft Corporation told reporters.
Russia plans to produce 300 of the aircraft over 15 years once serial production begins, he said. Rostec, Russia’s state aerospace and defence conglomerate, said the plane was hard to detect and would have low operating costs. Rostec’s chief, Sergei Chemezov, said it would cost $25 million to $30 million, the RIA news agency reported. Moscow expected demand from nations in the Middle East, Asia Pacific region and Latin America, he said.
“Our aim is to make the cost per flight hour as low as possible, to make it economical not only to buy but also to operate,” said Slyusar. Russia has successfully produced prototypes of new weapons systems in recent years but has sometimes struggled to move to serial production. Under Putin, it has invested heavily in military aircraft and new armaments, both for its own armed forces and also to boost export revenue from weapon sales. Many of its new weapons are still based on Soviet-era technology from the Cold War.
Russia already has fourth-generation fighter jets – the heavy-class Sukhoi Su-27 and light-class Mikoyan MiG-29. It has one heavy-class fifth generation fighter jet, the Su-57, but no light-class equivalent, Panteleyev said. “Light-class fighter jets are more in demand in the world than heavy-class ones – they are cheaper and more suitable for states that don’t have large territories,” he told Reuters. In 2011, Russia used the MAKS air show to unveil the Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter. United Aircraft, which is part of Rostec, owns the Sukhoi aircraft manufacturer that dates back to the Soviet era.