September 29, 2022

Su-75: Checkmate or Zugzwang!

At the end, the first prototype of Su-75 yet to be manufactured but claimed features are adequately promising and if really can maintain the price tag will be a lucrative offer. With integration of a new powerful engine and AESA radar with low price tag it can turn out to be real “Checkmate” in the game.

By Sankalan Chattopadhyay

Whenever one will explore the advancement of aviation technology in the 21st Century, will find the U.S. holds the top most position challenged by none. The U.S. is not only has mastered the fifth-generation technology but also it is only nation successfully inducted more than one stealth combat platform. But if there is any other nation always has challenged the U.S. in every aspect of technology that is Russia. Since the end of the World War II, the U.S. found Russia not only has progressed with matured technology but also often maintained dominance in the field with some amazing fighter platforms. Whereas with the induction of F-22 and F-35 U.S. left everyone behind, Russia became the second nation to have successfully developed a fifth generation combat platform-the Su-57. With an order of 78, Russian Air Force is trying to bridge the gap with the old adversary. And now in case you don’t know, Russia is developing not one but four advanced stealth combat aircrafts! Today we will talk about only one of them.

During MAKS 2021 Rostec’s United Aircraft Corporation unveiled a single engine fifth generation combat aircraft, primarily aiming export market, unveiled as “Checkmate” later got the official designation Su-75. Whereas Russia officially claimed that the first customer is already confirmed, the name is yet to be revealed. Besides many other nations have showcased their interest as well. It’s being said that in next 15 years 300 units of this fifth generation of fighter will be manufactured. Russia claims Su-75 costs just US$30 million, thus not only being cheaper than any other fifth generation platform available for export but also much economical than even light combat aircrafts available around the world! Obviously, if one is to choose from a fourth-generation platform costing US$80-150 million and on the other hand, a fifth generation one with just US$30 million price tag, obviously will go with the latter. It doesn’t matter how much advanced a fourth-generation platform be, can’t never match a fifth generation. Thus, it’s justifying its name – “Checkmate”.

Russia claims Su-75 costs just US$30 million, thus not only being cheaper than any other fifth generation platform available for export but also much economical than even light combat aircrafts available around the world! Obviously, if one is to choose from a fourth-generation platform costing US$80-150 million and on the other hand, a fifth generation one with just US$30 million price tag, obviously will go with the latter.

Su-75 is claimed able to rival the U.S. F-35. With an angular central diverterless inlet, v-shape tail and internal weapons bays the radar signature has been reduced significantly. The inlet might remind one of Boeing X-32, the alternative offer to Lockheed Martin X-35 which will later become the F-35. It features ruddervators like Northrop Grumman YF-23 had (which once rivaled Boeing YF-22). The first flight is scheduled to be in 2023 and serial production likely to be commenced by 2026. With 7.5T of payload this platform can be equipped with both air to air as well as air to surface weapons.

Modern RVV SD and RVV MD, possible RVV BD as well, might maintain air superiority while Kh-59 variants will enable the platform to target enemy surface platforms from a stand-off position. However, no clarification has been made yet on the engine but likely will be powered by an AL-41F1 till Izdeliye 30 project is successful. The platform as it claims will be able to touch a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and will have a clean range of 3,000 kilometers. The platform will feature an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, though not clarified which one but possibly a variant of N036-1-01 Byelka which is used by Su-57 as well.

It will feature a glass cockpit with two main multi-functional LCD displays and a head-up display (HUD). It will feature a low-drag, stealthy Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) just like F-35 integrated into fuselage with a durable sapphire window and likely linked to the aircraft’s integrated central computer through a high-speed fiber-optic interface. The internal weapon bay will hold five missiles. But the most advanced feature possibly will be the Matreshka automated logistical support system. Using the newest methods of predictive analytics, the system will track the condition of the platform in real time throughout its life cycle, according to official statement. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) will diagnose the platform systems and assist the pilot in a rapidly changing combat environment.  

The platform has been offered to many nations including India. Besides Vietnam and unnamed Latin American nations are the potential customers. It’s a platform offered as an alternative to fourth generation platforms as well as to F-35. According to latest reports, Russia can order it for domestic use as well. In future, there will be an unmanned version which will be a leap forward in the technology. The production likely to be started in 2026. The platform will be manufactured at a plant in Komsomolsk.

Su-75 is still hidden in the fog. Not much known about it, even Russia hasn’t revealed much of it. It should not be forgotten that Russia hasn’t been able to manage Su-57 as a perfect fifth generation platform yet. Russia is still struggling with the engine, which is the prime concern for any platform. The future Izdeliye 30 is expected to generate a dry thrust of 107.9 kN and 171.7 kN while using the after burner. But the current AL-41F1 can generate only 142.2 kN thrust even in afterburner while dry thrust is just 88.3 kN. These are significantly lower than Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 which power up F-35. In afterburner it generates massive 190 kN thrust. Don’t forget Su-75 will be a single engine platform so unless an equivalent power pack comes, it likely will remain under powered. So long range operations or complex manoeuvrability with heavy payload might be compromised. But again, the price tag might compensate all these shortcomings.

Don’t forget Su-75 will be a single engine platform so unless an equivalent power pack comes, it likely will remain under powered. So long range operations or complex manoeuvrability with heavy payload might be compromised. But again, the price tag might compensate all these shortcomings.

After all a US$30 million fifth generation platform will enable the customer to procure a large number of it with contested defence allocation. This platform itself is offered primarily to those nations who wish for a cutting-edge platform but lacks financial capability. India being the exception with credible financial capability, Russia is trying to get India back again as a prime customer after the FGFA project had derailed. But, again unlikely India is going to showcase any interest into it no matter what Russian media claims often. It’s also true that UAE initiated a light stealth fighter platform programme with Russia. So, UAE might be a strong contender especially when their attempt to procure F-35 isn’t fruitful. Vietnam might be another potential customer.

Neither American nor European platforms but it’s Chinese one, whom Russia should actually fear. China already has three platforms for export and FC-31 being the first fifth generation one. Pakistan eying a fifth-generation platform for future requirements and here too China has the highest chance to provide what they need. African nations already are procuring Chinese platforms in large numbers. It will be interesting how Russia stands against the new challenge. At the end, the first prototype of Su-75 yet to be manufactured but claimed features are adequately promising and if really can maintain the price tag will be a lucrative offer. With integration of a new powerful engine and AESA radar with low price tag it can turn out to be real “Checkmate” in the game.

Sankalan Chattopadhyay is a defence and strategic affairs analyst. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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