Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) has commenced assembling the first prototype of the new Light Strike Fighter (LTS) code-named ‘Checkmate,’ at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft plant (KAANZ) just a week after the official unveiling of a full-size mock-up of the aircraft at the MAKS 2021 event, Interfax reported.
The prototype will lead to the first foreign order for the Checkmate stealth jet, the name of the launch customer has not been revealed. Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said at the unveiling that the LTS already has an anchor customer from abroad but did not comment further.
"We are working on the creation of the first sample (protptype) of the (Checkmate) aircraft for static tests," Interfax reported based on KAANZ information
The LTS Checkmate was conceived as per the requirements of the anchor customer, Russian officials said. “The jet was developed on the specifications of a foreign customer,” Rostec chief executive, Sergei Chemazov had said after the official launch.
In the run-up to the unveiling, UAC and its parent, Rostec mentioned several countries and regions as possible customers – India and Vietnam in Asia, besides countries in the Middle East and Africa as possible customers.
India had pulled out of the Su-57 program several years ago stating it may reconsider its decision if the stealth jet is fully developed. The aircraft is yet to be equipped with a new engine offering super-cruise ability. India has plans to buy a single engine light fighter jet. However, it may not be interested in the new Russian single engine jet until it is certified and ready for air force service.
Other countries in the region, such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and Myanmar could be customers but unlikely to invest in an aircraft which could see the light of day 3-4 years from now. However, given the long time it takes to develop a fighter jet, potential customers would be unwilling to wait when they could obtain proven aircraft off-the-shelf (even if the aircraft is a generation behind the ‘Checkmate’).
In recent years, Bangladesh has matched its steadily improving economy with increased military purchases. It purchased land systems from Turkey, floated a global tender for large warships and bought the Yak-130 combat-trainer from Russia. It wants to replace its older fighter fleet with latest generation aircraft and would be willing to look at the ‘Checkmate.’
Indonesia, which signed a deal in 2018 to buy the Su-35 but has not gone ahead with the transaction, could be a customer. It has expressed an interest in buying the F-35 but was refused by the United States which has offered the F-16 instead. Indonesia is a partner the South Korean KF-21 jet program but it is not clear if its concerns over the participation have been ironed out.
Jakarta has kept its cards close to its chest as to its fighter jet purchase giving no indication what aircraft it may eventually buy.
Egypt could be a possible buyer of the LTS Checkmate. Given that the government of President Sisi has chosen an independent path regarding defense purchases. In recent years It has ordered Su-35 and Rafale jets and could be looking to upgrade to a stealth aircraft in the medium term.