Warplanes: Little Yak With Big Teeth


July 19, 2008: Three years ago, Russia decided to standardize on the Yak-130 jet trainer, and production began last year. So far, the Russian Air Force has bought 56. Algeria has ordered 24, and will begin receiving those next year. The Russian Air Force says it will buy 200 of them to equip four regiments of light attack aircraft.

The Yak-130 aircraft first flew twelve years ago, but the Russian air force could not afford to buy it back then. When money became available in the last few years, there developed a further complication. Another Russian manufacturer had a trainer, the MiG-AT. Political influence was deployed and it wasn't until two years ago that the air force generals were able to get permission to go forward with the Yak-130 purchase.

The Yak-130 is capable to performing many of the tricky maneuvers of Russias top fighters (like the Su-27, MiG-29 and many modern Western fighters). It can also perform as a light bomber. The nine ton aircraft has a max speed of 1,000 kilometers an hour and a flight lifetime of 10,000 hours in the air. The two pilot instructor and trainee sit one behind the other, and two engines make it a safer aircraft to fly. The Yak-130 can carry an external load of three tons (of bombs, missiles or fuel tanks). Max range, on internal fuel, is 2,000 kilometers. Russia is selling the aircraft to foreign customers for about $15 million.

The Yak-130 replaces the 1960s era L-29 (and a 1970s upgrade, the L-39). The Russian air force received its first Yak-130s two years ago. The Yak-130 is the most capable combat trainer in service, and its ability to operate as a light attack jet is a major bonus for many potential buyers.

Irkut, the Russian manufacturer, is also pushing plans to use the Yak-130, as the basis for a UCAV (combat UAV). There are other variants in development, like a single seat fighter version (Yak-131), plus a reconnaissance variant and even a four seat VIP transport. Russia is making a major sales push for the Yak-130. In addition to Algeria, Greece, Malaysia and several other countries have shown interest. For countries like Algeria, the ability to use the Yak-130 for combat missions, and lower (than regular combat aircraft) operating costs, are a major draw.

The Yak-130 was originally developed in cooperation with Italian firm Aermacchi. That deal fell apart eight years ago, and the Italians went on to develop their own version, and sell it as the M-346. But the Italian version will be more expensive, because of higher production costs.



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