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Vietnam Places Order for Yak-130 Trainers

 - February 3, 2020, 1:11 PM
Yak-130s now serve with the Russian Air and Space Force in considerable numbers. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Vietnam has ordered Yakovlev Yak-130 advanced jet trainers, the Moscow-based Vedomosti newspaper has reported. Although this is yet to be confirmed by official sources, none of the Russian governmental establishments involved in the arms trade have refuted the news, which may be taken for a tacit consent. The contract is believed to be for about a dozen aircraft to equip a single squadron. Since the type is offered to foreign customers at $15 million apiece, the deal is valued at about $200 million, but Russian media gives it at $350 million price tag, taking account of air-launched weapons, training, and aftersales support packages.

In Vietnamese service, the Yak-130 will replace aged Aero L-39 jet trainers procured some 40 years ago. The new aircraft are expected to join the 915th Training Aviation Regiment founded in 2018. Apart from the L-39s, it also operates Mi-8 helicopters belonging to the Higher Flight School of the Vietnamese People’s Army.

If Hanoi lives up to recent media reports about it acquiring the Yak-130s and Sukhoi Su-57E fifth-generation fighters, it will remain among the top five importers of Russian weapons. Following procurement of Su-27SK/UBK fighters in the 1990s, Vietnam added 24 Su-30MK2 two-seat multirole aircraft in 2003-2014, to become the third largest “Flanker” operator in Asia after China and India. The Yak-130 selection seems logical, as this type is advertised as the best option for training crews for the Flanker. Outfitted with a glass cockpit and the reprogrammable KSU-130 fly-by-wire flight control system, the Yak-130 is able to emulate the handling qualities of various aircraft types.

Apart from Russia, the Yak-130 is currently in service with five overseas customers. Algeria has received 16, Belarus eight, and Myanmar 16, the latter country having accepted the last batch in December 2019. Shipments continue to Bangladesh and Laos, which have ordered 24 and 10, respectively.

Even though Syria ordered 36 Yak-130s before the civil war that broke out in 2012, none has been shipped so far, and this contract is postponed indefinitely. In all likelihood, Damascus will redirect the funds to enlarging its L-39 fleet and reworking them for light attack through the installation of B-8L pods for 80-mm S-8 unguided rockets, as well as strengthening the airframe and adding two weapons stations for the carriage of 100-kg freefall bombs. Reworked L-39s are responsible for a large majority of the Syrian air force close air support missions in the ongoing offensive in the rebel-held Idlib province, their successful combat employment, prompting the development of an attack aircraft based on the Yak-130 platform.

Russia is working on the new SM-100 engine to increase the gross weight of the Yak-130, currently 10 tonnes, as well as the weapons load to three. It would replace the Ukrainian-designed Ivchenko-Progress AI-222-25, whose production was localized at the Salyut plant in Moscow. The newer engine should also support the Yak-130’s reputation as the most fuel-efficient jet in service with the Russian Air and Space Force (VKS). In the decade following the completion of state acceptance trials, the VKS has procured about 110 aircraft and is considering taking 150 more.

Some of the additional aircraft may come in a ground-attack version with either an electro-optical turret or radar. Five years ago, Yakovlev exhibited the first development prototype (side number 01) with an altered nosecone to house equipment for the accurate targeting of precision-guided munitions. A more recent derivative now under development would come with a Bars-130 radar, featuring an active array in the nosecone and a data processing block closer to the aircraft’s center of gravity. For precision strikes, the Yak-130 can carry guided bombs of the 250-kg class, developed and tested recently for use by this type, since all other warplanes in VKS service are designed to carry 500- or 1,500-kg weapons.