Irkut Fighters Pave Way For Trainers And Passenger Jets

 - February 12, 2014, 4:00 AM
The Yak-130 trainer could find a role in counterterrorist campaigns.

Russia’s Irkut Corp. is well known in the Asia Pacific region because of the mighty vectored-thrust Sukhoi Su-30 series multirole fighters in service with Indian and Malaysian air forces, numbering about 200 aircraft. The maker also supplied Su-27UB operational trainers to China; and a number of Asian nations still operate swing-wing MiG-23U trainers and MiG-27 strike aircraft built at the corporation’s manufacturing site in Irkutsk city, western Siberia.

The company has been fostering a very special relationship with India since the mid-1960s, when it supplied Antonov An-12 tactical transports. Today, about half of the Indian air force fighter squadrons are equipped with Su-30 and MiG-27ML aircraft either shipped from Russia or assembled locally from kits originating in Irkutsk.

The Indian, Malaysian and Algerian customers have been so profoundly happy with the Irkut-supplied vectored-thrust jets that Russia’s defense ministry, after a long break with orders, finally decided to purchase a quantity for itself. In 2012 the Russian air force accepted a couple of the Su-30SM multirole fighters, effectively a further improved Su-30MKI customized Indian model. Over the past year the number of Su-30SMs in Russian service has grown to 16, a number set to double in 2014.

Outwardly identical to the Indian version, the Su-30SM features the latest state-of-the-art avionics–in particular, a modern wide-angle head-up display (HUD) of French origin. AIN spoke to pilots of the Russian defense ministry’s main flight-test center, which is named after Valery Chkalov, who tested the Su-30SM. They were ecstatic about the new HUD and said it and a more powerful radar considerably improve the jet’s appeal to fighter pilots. At the same time, Russian air force commander Gen. Victor Bondarev told the media that, in the future, new fighters entering service will be equipped with even better, locally manufactured avionics.

While boosting Su-30SM output for domestic needs, Irkut continues to supply “technological kits” to Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) for subsequent assembly into the Su-30MKI. More than a dozen kits were due to be shipped in the 2013-2014 time frame. As of early 2013 (the latest date for which accurate figures are available), the number of Su-30MKI in service or ready for delivery was about 170. An additional contract for 42 aircraft was signed in December 2012, bringing the combined Indian order to 272. At Aero India 2013, last February, the Indian air force commander Norman Anil Kumar Browne said the service plans to acquire about 200 more fighters during the 12th development plan, including 126 Dassault Rafales as part of the MMRCA tender and “over 40 additional Su-30MKIs.” This will enable India to keep the number of its fighter squadron’s at 34.

Yak-130 as a Trainer

With so many modern, agile fighters going into service, there is an ever-increasing need for suitable training aircraft to prepare fighter pilots. The Yakovlev Yak-130 twinjet is such an aircraft. It is probably the best choice for those air forces that rely on Russian-made combat jets and, since the Yak’s flight control system is reprogrammable, it can emulate various aircraft types. Because of this quality, the system can be adjusted to closely simulate Western types–agile fighters, heavy-laden strike aircraft or benign tactical transports.

The super-agile Vympel R-73E air-to-air missile is integrated into the Yak-130’s weapons arsenal. This enables trainee pilots to master interception and dog-fighting techniques in this relatively small, affordable aircraft. Should the Yak-130 be called upon in anger, it can hit ground targets with 100-, 250- and 500-kg free-fall bombs, 250- and 500-kg guided bombs, or unguided rockets of the 80mm and larger calibers. In recent years the latter weapons became available with bolt-on guidance kits, making it possible for the pilot to correct their trajectories with a laser beam. This option is also available for the Yak-130 equipped with a designator pod. The Yak-130 can fire guided missiles with laser, TV and radar homing heads against ground- and sea-going targets.

A relatively modest fly-off price, low maintenance and operational expenses, modern avionics and aiming systems along with the ability to take to the air in a short time, including on a second mission, allow use of this small but venomous jet in counterterrorist campaigns. The Yak-130 is already in service with Algeria and Russia. Belarus and an Arab country expect deliveries this year, while Bangladesh has expressed an interest in acquiring 24 Yakovlevs in a hire-purchase arrangement, funded by the Russian government.

Last year the Yak-130 production line at Irkut was fully occupied by the local orders, leaving no room for export operations. In 2011 the Russian air force took nine aircraft; in 2012, 15; and in 2013, 18. The combined local order awarded to Irkut for this aircraft is 55 aircraft (separately, the initial batch of 10 aircraft was supplied by another company, the Sokol plant in Nizhny Novgorod). In the period 2015-2018 the number of Yak-130s in the Russian air force is expected to increase by some 30 units and Irkut is negotiating follow-on orders, including one for some 15 aircraft of a special version for the air force display team.

The strong positions in the Asia Pacific and Arab markets for combat jets also means that Irkut hopes to sell hundreds of (currently in development) MC-21 next-generation narrowbody jetliners there. Composite wings made by the most technologically advanced infusion methods without using autoclaves and the aluminum fuselage will provide an affordable high-tech solution to the many airlines looking for a highly economic passenger jet with 150- to 180-seat capacity as a viable alternative to the aging Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families. Meanwhile, Irkut and Bombardier are in talks about a joint marketing effort to promote the combination of larger MC-21 and smaller CSeries to help challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly.