The New Checkmate Stealth Jet is the Result of a Russia-UAE Joint Fighter Program - Report

The unveiling of the ‘Checkmate’ stealth fighter in the lead-up to the MAKS 2021 international aerospace show, which opened on July 20th, led to widespread speculation regarding which countries may be considered leading clients for the aircraft. 

The aircraft represents only the world’s second single-engine post-fourth generation fighter to be unveiled, following the American F-35, and will serve as a lighter counterpart to the Su-57 with lower maintenance requirements and much cheaper operational costs. 

It is the lightest fifth-generation fighter yet to be seen anywhere in the world, and unlike the Su-57 it is oriented primarily towards export markets with its development gaining no government funds contributing towards its development. 

While the investment in a fighter so heavily geared towards export markets is unusual - particularly unless some of the leading possible clients are given inputs into the design as was seen with China’s export-oriented JF-17 developed for Pakistan - the CEO of Russia’s state arms exporter Rostec reportedly confirmed at MAKS 2021 that the aircraft already had a foreign buyer.  

A report from a source close to the Russian defense industry, who asked to remain anonymous, has stated that the Checkmate's mystery client is in fact the United Arab Emirates - a country highlighted in the fighter's promotional video as a leading potential operator. 

The new Russian stealth fighter was reportedly developed with inputs from the UAE, much like the JF-17 was developed with inputs from Pakistan, to meet its needs and secure it as a financer and purchaser.

 Although the source’s statement could not be independently verified, it remains highly possible that it is indeed the case. 

In February 2017 Russia and the UAE announced the beginning of a joint program to develop a next-generation fighter with stealth capabilities that would enter service after 2025 - with the Checkmate scheduled to be ready in 2026. 

The announcement was made at the IDEX 2017 arms trade show in Abu Dhabi, and it was speculated that the result could be either a derivative of the MiG-35 or Su-35 with stealth features, much like the American F-15SE Silent Eagle, or an entirely new aircraft like the Checkmate.

Russia’s development and unveiling of a new fighter class for export without a confirmed client would be a major risk, which is why the report that the Checkmate is indeed the result of the Russia-UAE project makes sense. Of all the countries speculated to show an interest in the fighter, Abu Dhabi is best positioned to have financed and committed to the program. 

In addition, with no report that the Russia-UAE program was canceled, it would be highly unusual for Russia to develop the Checkmate for export highlighting the UAE as a leading client while at the same time developing another next-generation lightweight fighter jointly with the Arab country. 

The United Arab Emirates currently fields six fighter squadrons of fourth-generation single engine fighters each around 20 strong, including three each of the aging French Mirage 2000 and relatively modern F-16E Desert Falcon. It is expected that the Mirages will be replaced by 50 F-35s, while the F-16s could be replaced by the Checkmate. 

This would allow the country to avoid over-reliance on a single country or set of armaments for its next-generation fighters. As France is not expected to ever develop a post-fourth generation fighter independently, with the ‘4+ generation’ Rafale being its last fully indigenous manned fighter, Russia will effectively take its place in the fifth generation to meet the UAE's needs alongside the United States. 

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