July 20, 2021 By Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — With much fanfare, Russian aircraft makers on Tuesday unveiled a prototype of a new fighter jet that features stealth capabilities and other advanced characteristics.
Russian President Vladimir Putin inspected the prospective warplane displayed at the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow.
The new design has been developed by aircraft maker Sukhoi under the LTS program – a Russian acronym for the Light Tactical Aircraft.
Its makers said the prototype is set to make its maiden flight in 2023 and deliveries could start after 2026. They said the new design could be converted to an unpiloted version and a two-seat variant.
The new aircraft is smaller than Russia’s latest Su-57 two-engine stealth fighter, also built by Sukhoi, and only has one engine. It hasn’t received a name yet, and no details have been given about its characteristics and production prospects.
Russia’s Rostec state corporation that includes Sukhoi and other aircraft makers has advertised the new plane under the tag Checkmate, apparently intended to underline its superior characteristics.
It said the new warplane belongs to the so-called fifth generation of fighter jets – a definition that assumes stealth characteristics and a capability to cruise at supersonic speed, among other advanced features.
Rostec also said the new design includes artificial intelligence features to assist the pilot and other innovative technologies. It emphasized that it has been designed to reduce service costs and could be easily adapted to varying customer needs.
The prospective Russian fighter jet appears intended to compete with the U.S. F-35 Lightning II fighter, which entered service in 2015.
Rostec has run an aggressive advertising campaign in the days before the show, publishing a picture of the new fighter hidden under a black tarpaulin with “wanna see me naked?” written under it. It also posted a video featuring adulatory customers from India, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Vietnam and other countries, reflecting export hopes.
Plane spotters flocked to Zhukovsky last week to take pictures of the new plane as it was being taxied to a parking spot across the giant airfield which has served as the country’s top military aircraft test facility since Cold War times.
The Kremlin has made modernization of the country’s arsenals a key priority amid tensions with the West that followed Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
It also has strongly encouraged the development of new passenger jets intended to compete with planes built by Boeing and Airbus that currently account for the bulk of Russian carriers’ fleets.
Those programs have encountered delays amid Western sanctions that hampered imports of Western engines and other key components, but Russia has managed to make a new engine for the new MS-21 passenger plane that was also displayed at the show in Zhukovsky.
“What we saw in Zhukovsky today demonstrates that the Russian aviation has a big potential for development and our aircraft making industries continue to create new competitive aircraft designs,” Putin said in a speech at the show’s opening.