The wraps have finally, officially, come off the mock-up of Russia’s new light fighter, the Sukhoi Checkmate, also known as the Light Tactical Aircraft, or LTS in Russian, with a formal unveiling at the opening of the MAKS international air show at Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, today. Observers who had been given a succession of tantalizing, and mainly unofficial, glimpses of the new jet over the last few days now have the chance to examine the aircraft from all aspects. The actual ceremony ended up being delayed by several hours, perhaps to accommodate the visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was shown inspecting the mock-up after opening the show.
The end result is very much in keeping with the observations that The War Zone has been gathering based on initial, leaked, imagery, much of it that came when the aircraft was still literally under wraps. The United Aircraft Corporation and Rostec, for their part, which are responsible for the Sukhoi design bureau, seemed to actively encourage this process, harnessing it as something of a PR coup.
The aircraft’s intake has been one of its most debated features over the last week. New imagery shows the angular ventral inlet, which wraps around the lower nose section, to share features with a diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) design, but exactly how mature Russia’s take on this concept is, remains to be seen.
In terms of new developments, we now know that, as suspected, there is a larger main weapons bay within the lower fuselage. This is designed to accommodate three examples of the RVV-BD air-to-air missile, the export version of the very-long-range R-37M, or AA-13 Axehead, a weapon that you can read more about here. Furthermore, we now have confirmation that the long, conformal weapons bays located forward of the main landing gear are indeed intended to house smaller air-to-air missiles, for close-range defense.
Performance-wise, the manufacturer is apparently claiming a short takeoff and landing capability (rather than a full short takeoff and vertical landing capability, as in the F-35B), a range of up to 1,860 miles, combat radius of 930 miles, and a payload in excess of 15,000 pounds.
The airframe is said to be stressed to 8g, which is only slightly less than the 9g at which the airframe of the Su-35S Flanker heavyweight fighter is rated. This may reflect the fact the design focuses more on low-observable characteristics and range than maneuverability, although the final result is likely closer to the Su-57, concentrating on reducing the signature from the frontal hemisphere, rather than all-aspect stealth.
The projected timeline for the LTS includes the first flight of a technology demonstrator in 2023, followed by construction of pre-series prototypes in 2024-25, and delivery of initial production examples potentially as early as 2026-27.
The planned powerplant is not confirmed, but it is described as an engine in the 14.5 to 16-ton thrust class engine, utilizing off-the-shelf components. This rating would put it at the upper end of the output of the AL-41F1 turbofan now used in the Su-57, or at the lower end of the all-new Izdeliye 30, which is currently still in development.
In addition to the three long-range and two short-range AAMs that can be carried in the internal bays, a wide variety of air-to-ground ordnance is being offered as well. Unusually for a fifth-generation design, as well as different precision-guided munitions, the unveiling showed that the jet will also be able to carry various unguided rockets and dumb bombs. There will also be provision for an internal cannon, likely a 30mm weapon as on the Su-57.
The active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, of undisclosed type, is intended to engage six targets simultaneously while operating in a hostile electronic countermeasures environment. The radar will be part of one of an all-round sensor suite, including passive devices, likely similar to those found on the Su-57.
As of today, the program is being funded internally, with investors being sought to launch production for export. Interestingly, officials said they hoped that Russia might opt for the unmanned variant, rather than the manned fighter.