Yak-130 seeks role in combat training

 - December 15, 2006, 5:38 AM

Among the many military trainers exhibited here at Le Bourget, the Russian Yakovlev Yak-130 light twinjet can justly claim to represent a totally new generation. Equipped with a fly-by-wire control system, three large-screen 6- by 8-inch multifunctional liquid crystal displays and claiming an ability to replicate the performance of any combat aircraft, the Yak-130 should arguably be on the wish list of procurement departments.

Other features of the Yak-130 include a head-up display in the front cockpit, an optional helmet-mounted target designation system and open-architecture avionics that provide for the integration of new systems. No less than nine external hard points allow the Yak-130 to carry a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons of both Russian and foreign origin. An optical target acquisition/designation sensor pod is to be developed for the Yak-130. Kevlar armor will be provided to afford extensive protection to the pilot and vital equipment.

Yet despite some of these innovative features, it is the BAE Systems Hawk that continues to notch up orders around the world, so evidently some air forces prefer to select a mature but modernized design in preference to something new and untried. However, there is general agreement that efforts must be made to cut training costs and a widely accepted view is that a combination of turboprop and jet trainers is the best solution.

However, Russian experts claim that the new-generation advanced jet trainers not only prepare young pilots for the complexities of the latest fighters, but the Yak-130 also makes for cost savings by taking on some of the conversion and continuation training normally undertaken on expensive combat aircraft. The latter are perceived to consume too much fuel while being very demanding in terms of maintenance hours per flying hour. The result can be dangerously low annual flying hours simply due to budgetary limits.

So it is argued, when procuring new fighters it should be possible to take decisions based on maximum combat effectiveness and to a certain extent ignore high maintenance costs.

After a lengthy evaluation, the Russian air force is said to have ordered a sample batch of 12 “combat-training” Yak-130 aircraft for delivery starting mid-2006, with the final example due in late 2007. Given the very large number of Aero Vodochody L-39 jet trainers that need to be replaced in the Russian air force, there is a huge potential for follow-up orders.

To enhance the appeal of the Yak-130 in export markets, the aircraft is offered with a choice of three engines, soon to be increased to four. The present choice is between the DV-2S, AI-222-25 and Honeywell F-124-GA-200. Meanwhile, Saturn Corp. is developing the AI-55, which draws on AI-31F/FP technology that powers the Sukhoi Su-30.

The Yak-130 program is entering its final test phase including spin recovery and the release of guided and unguided weapons. The second prototype made its first flight in April this year and will be followed by the third prototype later this year. Irkut will undertake series production and Oleg Demchenko, director general of the Yakovlev Design Bureau, is confident that the Russian market alone will require 250 aircraft by 2015.

However, the rival but dissimilar MiG-AT is believed to be in contention and could yet share in future Russian air force orders.