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Should India buy Su-75 ‘Checkmate’ and What is the alternative?

The fifth-generation ‘stealth’ jet was on display in Russia at the MAKS 21 International Aviation and Space Expo. The Su-75 is a single-engine, supersonic fighter jet with advanced stealth technology,...

The fifth-generation ‘stealth’ jet was on display in Russia at the MAKS 21 International Aviation and Space Expo. The Su-75 is a single-engine, supersonic fighter jet with advanced stealth technology, which the other Russian stealth jet, the Su-57, lacks.

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Several military experts have suggested that the Indian Air Force may choose the Su-75 Checkmate.

Russia previously claimed that India, China, and Vietnam are among the potential buyers of the new light fighter jet. Based on demand, the manufacturer intends to produce 300 single-engine light tactical fighter jets over the next 15 years. “First and foremost, the aircraft will be aimed at African countries, India, and Vietnam,” Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov told reporters following the aircraft’s unveiling at the MAKS21 International Aviation Expo.

At $25-30 million per model, CheckMate would be less than half the price of the Saab Gripen ($85 million), as well as significantly less expensive than the US F-35 ($115 million), the French Dassault Rafale ($115 million), and Russia’s Su-57 ($100 million).

Also Read: Is It Safe To Be A Fighter Pilot In The Indian Air Force?

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This development has cast doubt on the future of India’s indigenous fifth-generation fighter aircraft, which are part of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) program.

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Fighter Capability of the IAF

The Indian Air Force is the world’s fourth largest, with 672 combat aircraft in active service, according to the World Air Force Directory 2021.

The IAF fleet is dominated by Russian jets such as the MiG-21, MiG-29, and Su-30. Other fighters include the French Dassault Mirage 2000 and Rafales, the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar strike fighter aircraft, and the indigenous lightweight Tejas jets.

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Since the 1960s, when the MiG-21 was first imported, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has operated Russian jets. Since then, India has acquired over 800 MiG-21s, which form the backbone of the Indian Air Force.

While a hundred MiG-21s are still in service, the entire fleet is scheduled to be retired by 2025 due to the number of accidents in which they have been involved. According to government estimates, more than 200 pilots died while flying the doomed planes.

India is the only country that still has more than a hundred Jaguar aircraft in six-squadron configuration. Due to high costs, the IAF shelved plans to upgrade the fleet by investing in new engines in 2019, citing reports that “for the price of two such upgrades, we can get one basic Rafale.”

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The phase-out period is scheduled to begin in 2023-24.

Two of the three squadrons (totaling 50 jets) of the Kargil success story’s Mirage 2000s have been upgraded to the latest Mirage 2000-5 Mk version, extending the jets’ operational life until 2030.

Military experts have warned about the aging fleet of IAF jets and the need to acquire more to adequately replace the retiring ones over the last decade. India also finalized a $6.58 billion deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for 83 indigenous Tejas jets, 73 of which are the improved Mark 1A Light version, to supplement the initial order of 40 jets.

In terms of sheer numbers, the combined strength of Tejas and Rafales is less than half of what is needed to replace the old and obsolete Jaguar, Mirage, and MiG-21 fighters.

One component of India’s efforts to recruit more fighters is to increase the current 28 front-line squadron strength to 42, an IAF-authorized number that New Delhi believes is sufficient to fight both Pakistan and China at the same time.

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Is India Considering Purchasing Su-57 Checkmate?

According to Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) in New Delhi, India has a very good chance of purchasing the new Russian jet.

“For the past 20 years, the IAF has been planning to acquire a single-engine jet. “The MMRCA competition, under which India was required to acquire 126 fighter jets, was originally for a single-engine jet but was later diverted because Sukhoi Su-30s were failing so badly that India wanted another twin-engine jet,” he told The EurAsian Times.

“They did it again with MMRCA 2.0 because the Russians did not have a single-engine jet to offer.”

“Now that the Russians have a single-engine jet, they could enter it into the new competition, and I personally believe it has a good chance of winning the Indian contract,” Iyer-Mitra added.

When asked if the acquisition of the new Russian jet would have any impact on India’s AMCA program, Iyer-Mitra stated that the AMCA program will continue to exist for many years regardless of whether India acquires the CheckMate or not.

Comparing indigenous fighter development to external procurement, in his opinion, is pointless because the Indian jets currently under development will not be used for serious combat, but only as a backup.

“There is a schism between what the IAF says in public and what it says in private.” In private, the IAF knows that the AMCA program will take another 50 years to take off, but in public, they will continue to pool resources for the program’s ‘Make-in-India’ appeal,” he said.

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India’s Alternatives

Iyer-Mitra outlined three single-engine aircraft on the international market that could compete for India’s need for a lightweight fighter, essentially a replacement for MiG-21s. They are the F-16 of the United States, the Saab Gripen of Sweden, and the Su-75 of Russia.

“While the F-16 is also operated by Pakistan and is nearing the end of its life, the problem with the Gripen is that it has an American engine, so India will not get any engine technology,” he said, adding that despite bad engines and electronics, India may still choose the Russian jet due to its stealth utility and is a known commodity.

As several military experts have suggested, Iyer-Mitra agreed that the Russian CheckMate is a beneficial bargain against the looming threat of China.

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