For Russia’s New Checkmate Stealth Fighter - Almost Every MiG-29 Operator is a Possible Client

Russia’s new Checkmate stealth fighter unveiled shortly before the MAKS 2021 airshow represents the country’s first truly post-Soviet medium or lightweight fighter and the first new design since the MiG-29 entered service in 1982. 

While advanced MiG-29M and MiG-35 jets are in production today - both of which are derived from the original MiG-29A but have had multiple changes made to their airframes - the Checkmate is expected to be produced primarily for export and will be a clear successor to all MiG-29 variants. 

While the fighter will be marketed to several countries which have no older MiG-29s to replace, such as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt which both field Mirage 2000s and F-16s in need of replacement, the Checkmate’s position as a direct successor to the MiG-29 will likely be a very significant asset to efforts to export the aircraft considering how widely the Soviet-era fighter and its modern variants and derivatives are used. 

The Checkmate could be attractive as a replacement for the MiG-29 for a number of reasons, including the fact that it has a much lower operational cost and lower maintenance requirements than heavyweight fighters such as the Su-30 and Su-57 which occupy most Russian production lines. 

The only MiG-29 clients which can be ruled out as clients for the Checkmate are Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia due to their membership of NATO, Ukraine for political reasons, and at least for the time being North Korea due to a UN arms embargo on the country. Several potential clients for the Checkmate still operate MiG-29A airframes built and delivered by the Soviet Union, some of which have been updated since, including several Soviet successor states such as Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. 

Others outside the former USSR include India, Iran, Syria, and Serbia. The MiG-29 is operated in a frontline role by over 20 countries today, and many of these are economically in relatively strong positions to pursue modernization of their fleets with the Checkmate. Among MiG-29 operators, the five leading potential clients which may look to the Checkmate as a direct replacement include Belarus, India, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.

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