Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Cat Amongst The Pigeons: Russia’s Newest Stealth Fighter Jet To Trigger Price War With Chinese, Western Aircraft

The AI-enabled Russian fifth-gen, stealth fighter jet Su-75 ‘CheckMate’ could trigger a price war in the global fighter jet market as it competes with US’ F-35, French Rafales, SAAB Gripens and Eurofighter Typhoons.

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The high-tech combat aircraft from Russia could drive a price war between most and of 4th and fifth-gen fighter jets including Chinese FC-31 and could kill the market of SAAB Gripen jets, according to military analysts.

The Su-75 Checkmate, which was unveiled at MAKS 21 airshow in Russia recently, is scheduled to take off by 2023 while its serial production will start by 2026. 

Checkmate
The Sukhoi ‘CheckMate’. (via Twitter)

The CheckMate is a single-engine light tactical jet, capable of flying at a speed of Mach 1.8-2 with a range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles). It has been designed to be smaller and cheaper than Russia’s Su-57 two-engine stealth fighter jet. 

The EurAsian Times earlier reported on the advanced features and capabilities of the AI-enabled jet which is being marketed as an export product by the Russian defense industry and the government. 

The fighter’s much-anticipated teaser video singled out four potential customers: India, Vietnam, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Russia claims countries such as India, China and Vietnam are among potential buyers of the new light fighter jet. The manufacturer plans to produce 300 single-engine light tactical fighter jets within the next 15 years based on the demand.

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“Firstly, the aircraft will be oriented toward African countries, India, and Vietnam,” Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov told reporters after the aircraft’s presentation in MAKS21 International Aviation Expo. 

This Su-75 comes amid a rising debate in the US military circles on the “affordability” of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program given the massive cost overrun and technical glitches. 

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The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

The Lockheed Martin F-35 program, originally approved in October 2001 under President George W. Bush, is projected to be the most expensive aircraft and military program in history, projected at more than $1 trillion.

Considered one of the most powerful jets in the world, the F-35 has been exported to 14 countries with new ones coming on board by the day.

It remains the most successful fifth-generation jet in the international market given the self-imposed export bans on US F-22 Raptor and China’s J-20.

According to US government estimates, the Department of Defence (DoD) plans to procure nearly 2,500 F-35s for about $400 billion. It projects spending another $1.27 trillion to operate and sustain them—an estimate that increased from $1.1 trillion in 2012.

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Government Accountability Office (GAO), a military watchdog in a report released on July 7th titled ‘F-35 Sustainment: DoD Needs to Cut Billions in Estimated Costs to Achieve Affordability’ warned that the projected sustainment costs for the F-35 joint strike fighter are unaffordable.

“The military services collectively face tens of billions of dollars in sustainment costs that the project will be unaffordable,” the report said.

The cost to operate the platform can be as high as $38,000 per flying hour, according to estimates from the F-35 Joint Program Office. 

The report recommended that the US Air Force needs to reduce the estimated annual cost per tail by %3.7 million (47%) by 2036, or else it will exceed its sustainment budget by about $4.4 billion. 

“Reducing such costs must be a top priority,” the watchdog added.

In a separate report, Bloomberg News listed more than 860 software and hardware defects in the F-35 fighter jet that the defense contractor Lockheed Martin has not resolved since the completion of the development phase in April of 2018. 

Despite questions being raised on the future of the program, the F-35 remains one of the most advanced and sought-after fifth-generation fighter jets. It remains to be seen whether the Russians will be able to exploit the negative publicity of the F-35 by providing a cheaper alternative. 

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FC-31, Gripen & Rafale Jets

Chinese state-run media Global Times in a report assessed the capabilities of CheckMate, comparing it to Shenyang FC-31, China’s second fifth-generation fighter jet which is still under development. 

“The Checkmate will also be a direct competitor to China’s medium-sized stealth fighter jet, the FC-31, on the international arms market.

However, China’s product has already made test flights, and is a step ahead of the Su-75 in terms of development progress,” Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert said. 

The other two competitors that are being positioned against CheckMate are the French Dassault Rafale and the Swedish JAS-39 Gripen. 

Saab-Gripen
The Swedish Saab Gripen. (Image courtesy: Saab)

The EurAsian Times earlier reported how western media is portraying the new stealth fighter as a “very dangerous enemy” for any fourth-generation aircraft. 

“The Checkmate fighter is too tough for any of the existing 4th generation fighters, it even claims to be the “Russian killer” of the Swedish Gripen fighters. In all likelihood, it will be able to deal with even such an enemy as the F-35”, said an analyst. 

Why Is It Cheaper?

The manufacturer Sukhoi, a subsidiary of state-run Rostec Corporation, said that CheckMate’s low cost is due to AI-assisted production methods and recycled technologies previously used in the development of the Su-35S and Su-57, National Interest reported. 

At $25-30 million per model, the CheckMate would cost less than half of Saab Gripen ($85 million), while also being substantially cheaper than French Dassault Rafale $115 million Russia’s Su-57 ($100 million). 

On the other hand, though the price of the Lockheed Martin F-35A variant used by the  US Air Force has fallen to below $80 million, the B (short take-off and vertical landing) and C (used by Navy) variants still cost more than $115 million per jet. 

Su-75 CheckMate
The Su-75 CheckMate. (via Reddit)

The National Interest predicts that the said price could be the baseline price, before customer-specific weapons/avionics configurations, modifications, and conversions are factored in.

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Apart from the apparent cost advantage, the advanced stealth capabilities and combat avionics such as the ability to attack up to six targets simultaneously make the fighter a competitive product in the export market. 

With a planned unmanned version of the jet in the works, the Russian Su-75 stands a fair chance to ‘CheckMate’ its rivals. 

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