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In the race for fifth generation fighter jets, India may buy Russia’s “checkmate” plane—Chinese analysts

A prototype Sukhoi “Checkmate” stealth fighter Photo: South China Morning Post

In the race for fifth generation fighter jets, India may opt for Russia’s latest “checkmate” plane to deter China, instead of the US F-35, which falls in the same category, say Chinese military analysts.

The Hong Kong based South China Morning Post (SCMP) is reporting that India will be keen to purchase Russian plane, whose prototype was unveiled at the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon, outside Moscow.

India expected to seek new Russian stealth fighter amid ongoing border dispute with China

The daily cites three reasons as to why India may opt for the Russian stealth fighter.

First, the Russian plane would be much cheaper than the more expensive F-35. While the “Checkmate” may cost around US $25-30 each, the F-35 Lightning comes with a much steeper price tag of US $100 million.

Sergei Chemezov, chief of Russia’s state aerospace and defence conglomerate Rostec was quoted as saying that the Checkmate was likely to be in heavy demand in the  Middle East, the Asia-Pacific and Latin America. Second, there is a long queue for the F-35, which can be manufactured only in limited numbers by Lockheed Martin, its manufacturer. The company can produce on 100-200 planes a year—a number that does not cater to the heavy demand.

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Third, the Russian plane would be robust and capable, though it may lag behind in avionics and the fire control systems. Sukhoi, the manufacturer claims that the fifth-generation fighters could travel at twice the speed of sound. It had operational range of 3,000km (1,865 miles) and could carry a  7.4 tonnes load of bombs and missiles. The daily quoted Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, as saying that the aerodynamic design suggested Russian new offering has better stealth features than the Sukhoi Su-57, Russia’s first fifth-generation fighter which entered service in December last year.

The Checkmate is expected to fly in 2023 and deliveries could begin three years later. Russia plans to produce 300 of the planes over a period of 15 years.

India is rapidly upgrading its Air Force , which includes the recent induction of the 4.5 generation Rafale fighter jets from France. China had deployed its J-20—supposedly a fifth-generation plane in Ladakh during the standoff with India.

However, India’s former Air Chief  BS Dhanoa, does not classify the Chinese J-20 as a genuine fifth generation fighter, citing some of the plane’s technical features. Dhanoa told Hindustan Times that if  the J-20, also called the Mighty Dragon, is indeed a fifth-generation stealth fighter, then there is no reason why it has  canards—a feature that is not there in established  5th generation fighters such as the US’ F 22, F 35 and Russia’s  Su 57 .

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Canards are small forward wings that are mounted on the fuselage that help stabilise the plane and also improve its lift. But they have a major drawback. Their angular surface area can be easily picked up by radars, increasing their vulnerability.