MOSCOW — Russia’s Irkut Corp. is working on improvements to its Yakovlev Yak-130 combat jet trainer that may turn it into a light attack aircraft.

The first stage of modernization includes the installation of an inflight refueling system and optronic pod, says Irkut Vice President Komstantin Popovich. This work should be completed in 2013, he adds.

In the next stage, designers plan to equip the aircraft with radar. Three options are being evaluated, says Popovich. The first is from Phazotron-NIIR. Earlier, Phazotron’s chief designer, Yury Guskov, told Aviation Week that his company had started developing a slot array antenna radar, dubbed FK-130, for this aircraft.

The other options are an onboard radar from Tikhomirov-NIIP or a radar pod from St. Petersburg’s Leninetz plant. According to Popovich, the radar designer and supplier is to be selected by the end of the year; development efforts are planned for 2013-14.

Popovich says the radar installation will provide the Yak-130 with target detection for air-to-ground missiles like the Kh-31 (AS-17 Krypton), Kh-38 and Kh-29 (AS-14 Kedge). “We understand now that the aircraft’s stability allows us to use such heavy missiles,” he says, adding that all these improvements are being made without the Russian air force’s request.

The aircraft can currently carry up to 3,000 kg (6,600 lb.) of combat payload including the short-range R-73 (AA-11 Archer) air-to-air missile with infrared seeker, KAB-500 guided bombs, free-falling bombs, unguided rockets or a pod with 23-mm GSh-23L twin-barreled cannon. The weapons can be fixed at nine external hardpoints: six underwing, two wingtips and one under the fuselage.

Irkut suggests that the Yak-130 attack version could be used in low-intensity conflicts to engage point-surface targets and low-speed air targets.

The Russian air force selected the Yak-130 in 2002 as its new jet aircraft for basic and advanced pilot training to replace the aging fleet of Soviet-era Czech L-39 trainers. It is equipped with a glass cockpit and a reprogrammed fly-by-wire system that can replicate the characteristics of various Russian fighters, fourth-generation and higher.

The basic Yak-130 variant completed government evaluation trials in 2009. The Russian air force now operates 12 aircraft from the initial production batch. In 2011 the air force placed an order for 55 trainers with the option for 10 more. The first batch of 15 under the deal is slated to be handed over this year; the total deliveries should by complete by 2012.

Last year Irkut also shipped 16 aircraft of this type to Algeria.