Five Best Features of Russia’s Checkmate Stealth Fighter - A Silent Hypersonic Killer at Long Ranges

Russia’s Checkmate lightweight stealth fighter is expected to enter service from 2026 and will be the country’s first single-engine fighter class to be commissioned 51 years since the MiG-27 joined the Soviet Air Force in 1975. 

The aircraft is expected to be the world’s sixth fighter to enter service with fifth-generation capabilities, following the American F-22 and F-35, the Chinese J-20 and FC-31, and the Russian Su-57. It will be the second fighter of its generation built with a single-engine after only the F-35, and will be considerably lighter and require less maintenance than any other fifth-generation fighter class. 

Currently, J-20 and F-35 are the only fifth-generation fighters in large scale production, with the troubled F-22 seeing orders to terminate production given less than four years after it entered service, and the Su-57 being in very low-level production with only five expected to be in service by the end of 2021.

The Checkmate was funded privately without support from the Russian government, but reportedly had support from a foreign government which one source close to the military stated was the United Arab Emirates. 

The fighter has the potential to be a major success on export markets with over 300 expected to be produced and is considered a natural successor to the widely used MiG-29 which can also replace older fighter models such as the F-16, MiG-21, and MiG-23 many of which are expected to be phased out of service across the world from 2025 to 2035. 

A look at the five most outstanding characteristics of the Checkmate fighter which could make it attractive when marketed for export is given below. 


The R-37 is the fastest and longest range air to air missile in the world, and Mach 6 it is one of the very few missiles of its kind that flies at hypersonic speeds which reduces the response time of enemy aircraft being targeted. Originally developed for the MiG-31 Foxhound heavyweight interceptors of the Russian Air Force, the missile has since been miniaturized and forms the second generation of post-Soviet long-range air to air missiles to succeed the R-77, which in turn had been developed as a successor to the R-27 of the late Cold War years. 

While most Russian fighters still rely on the R-27 which is the country’s most widely used beyond visual range air to air missile, the Checkmate stealth fighter will reportedly rely exclusively on the R-37M for beyond visual range combat - with the fighter’s powerful AESA radar allowing it to guide the missiles to targets up to 400km away which is the R-37’s maximum range. 

The longest ranged air to air missile in U.S. Military service is the AIM-120D which can engage targets up to 180km away, while most American and allied fighter units rely on either the AIM-120C, which has a 105km range, or even older missiles such as the AIM-120B or AIM-7. This provides the Checkmate with an overwhelming advantage in beyond visual range combat. Over its lifetime other long-range air-to-air missiles capable of flying hypersonically, and hypersonic standoff air-to-ground missiles, will likely be integrated. 


As a fifth-generation aircraft, the Checkmate is being built as a stealth fighter, and while placing less emphasis on a reduced radar cross-section than U.S. or Chinese post-fourth generation aircraft it is still expected to have a lower radar cross-section than any other class of Russian fighter - and like than any manned fighter developed outside China or the United States for at least a decade after it enters service in 2026. The fighter has a single angular air inlet under its forward fuselage which is reportedly a Diverterless Supersonic Inlet. 

This will not only ensure the provision of a steady airflow to the engine across a wide operating envelope while avoiding complex mechanical systems and controls, but it will also help to block the engine fan face from radar waves from most angles. 

Paired with R-37M missiles and a powerful sensor suite, including an AESA radar which will reduce the fighter’s radar signature significantly, the Checkmate will be a difficult aircraft to lock on to and will be optimized for very long-ranged kills. 

Low maintenance 

Single-engine fighters have generally been prized for their low maintenance requirements - the somewhat troubled F-35 being the only notable exception in recent years - with one of the Checkmate’s most attractive features being its much lower operational costs and maintenance needs than the Su-57 and likely even the Su-30 or Su-35 from the previous generation. 

The Checkmate’s design will be particularly attractive from a maintenance point of view for countries that operate or intend to operate the Su-57 fighter due to the commonality between them particularly for their engines. 

Operational costs represent the large majority of a fighter’s expenses over its lifetime rather than acquisition costs, so making the Checkmate relatively cheap to operate will likely be key to its success - much as it was for the Soviet MiG-21 and American F-16. 

Ease of maintenance also allows operators to maintain high availability rates for their fleets, with more maintenance-intensive fighters being much harder to keep combat-ready.  

Supercruise and Supermanoeuvrability 

The Checkmate fighter’s reportedly impressive flight performance will be a major factor in its favor, with the fighter reportedly having a supercruise capability allowing it to fly for long distances supersonically without using its fuel-inefficient afterburners. This is a feature its competitor the F-35 notably lacks, and the new stealth jet will be one of very few with a single-engine capable of doing so. 

The USSR was notably the first country to introduce a combat jet that could fly supersonically for extended periods and was built for air to air combat, after introducing the MiG-31 Foxhound in 1981, although this was not technically a supercruise capability. This feature has only been integrated into modern fighters much more recently. 

The Checkmate will also reportedly use a three-dimensional thrust vectoring engine, although it remains uncertain whether this will be integrated onto all variants due to its cost. This will provide extreme maneuverability, and is currently used only by the Su-35, Su-57, and the Chinese J-10C fighters. 

Short Takeoff, Short Landing 

Upon entering service the Su-57 was hailed by Russian media outlets in particular for its ability to operate from short runways, in contrast to Cold War-era heavyweight aircraft such as the MiG-25 which required very long runways for takeoff and landing. 

The Checkmate is thought to be able to operate from even shorter landing fields than its heavier counterpart, which could be extremely useful when facing enemy attacks on one’s airfields. Like all post-third generation Russian fighters, and particularly medium and lightweight aircraft built for deployment closer to the frontlines, the Checkmate will almost certainly be designed to operate from austere airfields which Western fighters would be unable to use. 

This represents a potentially decisive advantage that is vital to keeping the fleet operational and able to fly in the event of a major war. 

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