The famed Mikoyan-Guervich (MiG) and Sukhoi design bureaus unveiled the MiG Checkmate stealth jet at MAKS-2021, the new kid on the block has a refreshing look, a far cry from the increasing number of F-22 or F-35 clone mock ups popping up around the world

The sleek new fighter jet is intended to rival Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, based on technology from its Su-57 fighter, Sukhoi has dubbed the new fighter “Checkmate.”

A prototype of the Checkmate fighter was the opening act for the MAKS-2021 air show at Zhukovsky Airport southeast of Moscow, which runs from July 20-25.

Design Concepts

The Light Tactical Aircraft (LTA) designation and the configuration show that this is clearly a concept aimed at producing a relatively cheap and cheerful, somewhat low observable light fighter, primarily for the export market.

The relatively compact size and engine/intake placement will limit the space available for internal weapon bays. An educated guess would be of two IR dogfight missiles in the small side-mounted bays ahead of the main landing gear, and space for 2-4 R-77 class BVR missiles in a ventral bay. However, larger air-to-air and air-to-ground ordinance would likely have to be carried externally. It is also likely to have a modest range with internal fuel due to the competing demands for landing gear housing, weapons bays and avionics within a compact airframe.

As with the Su-57, the LTA features an Infra-Red Scan and Track (IRST) sensor embedded at the junction between the forward canopy and the nose, and will likely feature an active electronically scanned array (AESA) type radar in the nose. The latter, however, will be limited in size due to the narrow and aggressively tapered nose profile.  

One particularly notable feature is the lack of conventional elevators. Instead, the LTA has canted stabilisers which are more vertical than I would have expected if a ruddervator (or V-Tail) configuration was intended to provide primary pitch authority. Instead, it would appear that pitch authority will be provided by a combination of tailless delta style elevon control and at least 2D thrust-vectoring. This suggests that the LTA has a lessened design emphasis on supermanoeuvrability than previous Russian fighter designs reported defence website HushKit (a more detailed report is available here).

The fighter jet features an unusually pointy nose and an engine intake below the cockpit. The Checkmate also has an internal weapons bay designed to preserve its anti-radar shaping and can carry both air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance, including both infrared- and radar-guided air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground and anti-ship missiles, guided and unguided bombs, and unguided rockets.

And though Russia said the aircraft features a gun, we don’t know whether the gun is mounted internally or externally.

The Checkmate is designed as a short take-off-and-landing fighter jet, a feature that lends itself to operating from aircraft carrier flight decks and runways damaged by enemy action. The plane has a combat radius of 1,500 kilometers (932 miles), or the distance a Checkmate that’s fully laden with missiles and bombs can travel, fight, and then return to base.

The plane will have a top speed of 1,180 mph (1,900 km). Sukhoi, in a dig against the F-35, says the Checkmate is capable of “continuous supersonic flight”—a nod to last year’s revelation the F-35 can only fly supersonic for 50 seconds before possibly damaging the plane. Sukhoi claims its aircraft is capable of 8g manoeuvres.

The Checkmate, like the F-35, can share data in the air with other fighter jets. UAC promises three “configurations”—basic, medium, and full—though it’s not clear what any of that means. The fighter will feature a streamlined maintenance system.


There are three key technologies which Russia will need to master before the LTA could be seen as a competitive stealth fighter in not only in Russia but globally. First point in question is, the integrators need to master compacting AESA radars, as the key factor for any stealth is to have a low-probability of intercept/low-probability of detection (LPI/LPD), and it is a vital factor in the survivability and lethality of any stealth jets. Secondly, key technology has to be developed to achieve the necessary level of industrial quality control to produce viable low-observable aircraft in quantity. Lastly, MiG/Sukhoi need to master technologies in the field of advanced materials science and thermal management.

Parting Thoughts

Could Checkmate indeed, checkmate the F-35? It’s way too early to tell. But if UAC can keep costs down and stick to its development schedule, it could hurt the F-35 in the foreign sales market. Not surprisingly, India could well turn out to be one of its biggest customers in the world market, as IAF hasn't shown any affinity for the F-35 or for that matter, vice-versa. The F-35 is the equivalent of a Rolls-Royce, but there are plenty of countries that would be perfectly happy to have a Hyundai.

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