Warplanes: The Yak Can't Take It


May 25, 2012: This is shaping up as a bad year for Russia's new Yak-130 jet trainer. It's recently been revealed that the Russian Air Force will not use any Yak-130s as combat aircraft. The Russians had planned to buy 200 Yak-130s for use as light attack aircraft (called Yak-131). But it was determined that the pilots were too vulnerable. This was particularly critical for an aircraft that would often go low to deliver attacks. This would expose the aircraft to ground fire and the air force determined that it would be better to refurbish the older Su-25 ground attack aircraft instead. These are being upgraded to the Su-25SM standard.

The ten ton Yak-130 can carry an external load of three tons (of bombs, missiles, cannon pod, or fuel tanks). Max range, on internal fuel, is 2,000 kilometers.

Earlier this year Russia found another export customer for  the Yak-130. But this customer may not complete the transaction. Last December Syria agreed to pay $550 million for 36 Yak-130s. But production will not begin until Syria makes the first payment, which it has not done and probably won't as long as the Syrian government is dealing with a growing rebellion. The rebels are currently expected to win but that is not a sure thing. If the rebels do prevail the Yak-130 contract will most likely be cancelled. That is because Russia has been a staunch supporter, for decades, of the Syrian dictatorship. That support is purchased with economic and diplomatic favors from Syria. This is the sort of payback Russia wants for its support.

The Yak-130 needs all the help it can get. Last year, seven years after deciding to adopt the Yak-130 as its new advanced jet trainer, Russia finally placed a substantial order for 55 of the aircraft. Four years ago Russia ordered a dozen and said it was going to order a lot more. But the global recession intervened and a shortage of money delayed the big buy until now.

The new Yak-130s for Russia will be delivered over the next three years. This is just in time because the existing Cold War era L-29 and L-39 trainers are rapidly falling apart. This big order also means that Russia is serious about increasing pilot quality. It makes sense for Syria to obtain the Yak-130s for the same reasons. But Syria has little oil money and an economy crippled by decades of corruption. Iran was expected to secretly finance the purchase.

The Russian Air Force received its first Yak-130s three years ago. Deliveries to the first export customer, Algeria, began two years ago. Algeria has ordered 16. Algeria is another Arab dictatorship that Russia has long supported. So was Libya, which the Russians do not want Syria to emulate.

Production of the Yak-130 began five years ago. The Yak-130 is capable of performing many of the tricky maneuvers of Russia's top fighters (like the Su-27, MiG-29, and many modern Western fighters). It can also perform as a light bomber. The aircraft has a max speed of 1,000 kilometers an hour and a flight lifetime of 10,000 hours in the air. The pilot instructor and trainee sit one behind the other and two engines make it a safer aircraft to fly. Russia is selling the aircraft to foreign customers for about $15 million.




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