As UAE Waits for US F-35s, Russia Pitches New Warplane in Dubai

By Reuters
November 15, 2021 Updated: November 15, 2021

DUBAI—Russia showed off a prototype of its new fifth-generation warplane at the Dubai Airshow on Sunday as the United Arab Emirates’ deal to buy American F-35 fighter jets makes slow progress.

It was the first time the Sukhoi Su-75 Checkmate, unveiled in July, had been shown outside Russia, and according to the Russian state news agency it was visited by an Emirati delegation.

A glitzy English-language computer simulation video showed the light tactical warplane, capable of simultaneously carrying five air-to-air missiles, destroying multiple targets at once.

The Russian presentation pitched the Checkmate, which was inspected by Vladimir Putin during its July unveiling, as a cost-efficient fighter jet that can fly at speeds of Mach 1.8 and a range of around 1,740-1,800 miles.

Yuri Slusar, head of United Aircraft Corporation
Yuri Slusar, head of United Aircraft Corporation, talks to media in front of a Sukhoi Su-75 Checkmate prototype warplane during the Dubai Airshow, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Nov. 14, 2021. (Imad Creidi/Reuters)

The Checkmate, due to take its maiden test flight in 2023 and to start production by 2026, has yet to seal an order. The Lockheed Martin F-35 entered into service in 2015 with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Yury Slusar, head of United Aircraft Corp, part of Russia’s state aerospace and defense conglomerate, Rostec, said there had been “intensive contacts” with the Russian air force.

Western diplomats doubt U.S.-allied Gulf states would buy sophisticated equipment like the Checkmate, though sales of Russian hardware to the Gulf have increased in recent years.

The UAE in 2017 signed a preliminary deal to buy Sukhoi Su-35 warplanes and jointly work with Russia on a next-generation fighter but so far it appears not to have made progress.

“The UAE likes the idea of cultivating ties with the Russian defence industry but it’s mainly a way to send a message to the U.S.,” said Jean-Loup Samaan, senior research fellow with the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Washington’s sale of 50 F-35 Lightning II warplanes to the UAE has slowed amid concerns about the UAE’s relationship with China, including the prevalence of Huawei 5G technology in the country.

The United States agreed to sell the plane after the UAE last year established ties with Israel.

By Alexander Cornwell