Here at Farnborough International Airshow, Russia’s Irkut is demonstrating its Yakovlev Yak-130 combat trainer. Although the aircraft has participated in various air shows before, this time it represents a version of the jet already in service with the Russian and Algerian air forces.
The program began back in the late 1980s and first flight occurred in April 1996. Since then the two-seat Yak-130 has met and overcome numerous challenges, and has gradually evolved into a highly potent and truly versatile platform able to play many modern air force roles.
Last month, Russia’s Aviation Center for Crew Training at Borisoglebsk reported that it had commenced a program of preparation of the country’s air force pilots using the Yak-130 in the role of lead-in fighter trainer (Lift). Although the Russian air force formally pronounced the Yak-130 operational in December 2009, additional weapons-firing tests, and the preparation of various techniques and manuals by the Combat Usage and Crew Re-Training Center at Lipetsk air force base, took two more years to complete.
Five Yak-130s arrived at Borisoglebsk in April 2011, and preparation of the syllabus commenced. According to the air force, the expected arrival of seven more aircraft this summer will enable it to complete the formation of a full-strength training squadron.
The center’s senior students are now flying the new type as a final part of their qualification process. “This aircraft is easy to handle, and has a big future ahead of it,” said Victor Lyakhov, commander of the Borisoglebsk center. “In addition to the primary combat training role, the Yak-130 can perform missions as an attack aircraft, a fighter and a tactical bomber.”
Russian air force officers refer to the Yak-130 as the “flying computer” because of its KSU-130 re-programmable fly-by-wire flight control system, which is able to replicate the behavior of various combat jets. In particular, Borisoglebsk will prepare pilots for flying the Sukhoi Su-34 interdiction fighter and Su-25 attack aircraft. In the primary trainer role, the Yak-130 replaces the Czech Let L-39, which has been the mainstay of Russia and former Soviet states since the early 1970s.
Irkut (Hall 1 Stand E8) offers the Yak-130 as part of a “fully integrated training system” that also includes interactive computer classes, procedural and full-flight simulators and Yak-52M/Yak-152 light piston airplanes. Until a Yak-130 full-flight simulator is installed at Borisoglebsk, the students are using a simulator based at Irkutsk, where Irkut runs a training and in-type qualification center for foreign pilots.
Last year Russia’s state arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, delivered 16 customized Yak-130s to Algeria, along with the last eight Su-30MKA fighters (out of 44 ordered). As part of the contract, Irkut trained about 150 Algerian air force pilots to operate both types.
First Computer-aided Design
The Yak-130 is the first military aircraft developed from scratch in Russia with extensive use of computer-aided technologies. It belongs to the fourth generation of combat jets and features open-architecture avionics on the MIL-STD-1553B databus and embedded simulation.
In addition to three multi-function displays, as in the rear cockpit, the forward one additionally has a head-up display similar to that in use in MiG-29/Su-27 fighters. Fly-by-wire technologies provide for carefree handling, reducing pilot workload.
The airframe is made largely of aluminum-magnesium-lithium alloys and also titanium, which Irkut claims makes it weight-efficient without use of composites. Selection of materials was dictated by the customer requirements for simple and low-cost maintenance and repairs, as well as “away-from-main-base” combat deployments in tough climatic conditions. The Yak-130 can operate from semi-prepared airfields, relying on a system of air intakes and channels designed to prevent damage to the engine by foreign objects during takeoff and landing.
In “clean” configuration (that is, without weapons or other external equipment), with full tanks, the Yak-130 has a maximum takeoff weight (mtow) of 15,984 pounds. For combat deployment, mtow is 22,686 pounds. Standard fuel capacity of 3,748 pounds provides for a range of 864 nm. A pair of 992-pound fuel tanks on wing pylons extends the range to 1,134 nm.
The aircraft can carry 6,614 pounds of weapons on nine pylons. This may include a 23-mm twin-barrel cannon pod on the central hardpoint and a combination of dummy rockets/bombs and precision-guided munitions (PGMs) on wing pylons.
Although subsonic (Mach 0.93), the Yak-130 is highly agile (with an angle of attack up to 35 degrees) and maneuverable (up to +8g). It can climb to 30,000 feet in three minutes.
A high power-to-weight ratio (0.7) and advanced aerodynamic configuration with moderately swept wings smoothly blended into large fuselage root extensions allow the Yak-130 to have more than a 200-fps climb rate at 15,000 feet. This enables its use as interceptor armed with Vympel R-73E infrared air-to-air missiles, for which the pilots can designate targets using helmet-mounted sights.
In 2005, the Russian defense ministry ordered the initial batch of 12 Yak-130s. Deliveries from the Sokol plant in Nizhny Novogorod commenced in 2008 and were completed in March 2011. In November 2011, the ministry came up with another order for 55 Yak-130s with an option for 10 more. The respective contract went to another maker, Irkut, which by that time had completed 16 such aircraft for Algeria.
Irkut president Alexei Fedorov has estimated the Yak-130 delivery rate at 250 units “in the middle term” and believes the type can compete for a quarter of the world’s market for advanced jet trainers, estimated at 2,500 units. In his view, the Yak-130 is “a worthy addition” to the Sukhoi Su-30MK twin-seat multirole fighter, which has been Irkut’s cash cow since 1996.
Bangladesh is reportedly negotiating for 10 Yak-130s in a prospective deal through Rosoboronexport that would likely be backed by Russian government credits. Syria has signed for the Yak-130, but the status of this order is unconfirmed. During the deposed regime of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya also ordered the Russian trainer but this contract is understood to have been canceled.
The Russian air force is expected to place additional orders for special variants of the Yak-130, including some for an aerobatic display team. The service has the Russian Knights team flying Su-27s and the Strizhy team in MiG-29s, but supersonic fighters are rather costly in that role.
Now Yakovlev is also working on a dedicated ground-attack variant of the Yak-130. It will differ from the baseline combat trainer in having a larger nose housing a multifunctional radar, an armor-protected pilot cockpit for one crew member instead of two and higher-power engines each developing 6,173 pounds of thrust compared to 5,511 pounds for the current production Ivchenko-Progress AI222-25. The industrial team behind the project also hopes to sell a dedicated trainer version to the Russian and Indian navies.
In a recent press briefing, former Russian air force commander Alexander Zelin and current defense ministry advisor Anatoly Serdyukov said that the air force needs a new type of ground-attack aircraft and that provision has been made for this in the 2011-2020 arms procurement plan. The new aircraft would have stealth characteristics, be capable of operating from short runways and be equipped with an advanced radar.
Irkut is proposing a version of the Yak-130 for this role. Zelin said that while the aircraft has its strengths, it could be found wanting with weaknesses such as insufficient protection for the pilot from ground fire.
In this market Irkut faces strong competition from Sukhoi, which has been urging the defense ministry to restart production of the Su-25 family of aircraft at the UUAZ helicopter plant in Ulan-Ude. This enterprise specializes in production of the highly successful and popular Mil Mi-17 series of helicopters, but has retained manufacturing jigs for the Su-25UB twin-seat operational trainer and its derivatives (Su-25UBK, Su-25T and Su-39). These types were in limited production in Ulan-Ude at the turn of the century.
The Yak’s strongpoint is Irkut’s capacity to produce 50 Yak-130s a year, Alexander Veprev, general manager at Irkut’s IAZ plant, told AIN. He added that there is a provision to increase this to 60 units if demand proves high enough, in addition to which Sokol could add up to 10 airframes a year.