Though Russia's Irkut is working to expand the Yakovlev 130's role from a fast-jet trainer to an attack aircraft, a senior company official acknowledges that the aircraft will not be vying for the largest trainer competition.

The Pentagon is planning to buy at least 350 T-38C replacements beginning in fiscal 2013 or 2014, and the list of competitors is long. But, Konstantin Popovich, head of Yakovlev's engineering center, acknowledges that the Yak-130 is unlikely to be on it.

“Everything is possible [but] we are trying to be realistic. We understand that [the M-346] is the Western option of the aircraft. So, of course it most probably is the . . . M-346” that will compete, he said through a translator at a Farnborough air show briefing.

Irkut and Alenia Aermacchi teamed to design the aircraft and Alenia's version, the M-346, is a sure contender for the U.S. program. It is likely to compete against versions of the BAE Hawk and Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50. Boeing is also leaning toward designing an aircraft from the ground up (AW&ST July 16, p. 14).

Russia's military is purchasing 55 Yak-130s through 2015 and has a contract option for 10 more. The basic Yak-130 variant completed government evaluation trials in 2009. The Russian air force now operates 12 aircraft from the initial production batch. Fifteen are slated to be handed over this year; all deliveries should by complete by 2012. Last year Irkut also shipped 16 aircraft to Algeria.

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.

But, as the company delivers more aircraft, officials are also focused on upgrades. The first stage of modernization includes the installation of an inflight refueling system and electro-optical pod, Popovich said. This work should be completed in 2013, he added.

In the next stage, designers plan to equip the aircraft with radar. Three options are being evaluated, said 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 year-end; development efforts are planned for 2013-14.

Popovich said the radar installation will provide the Yak-130 with target detection for air-to-ground missiles such as 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 said, adding that all these improvements are company-initiated.

The aircraft can currently carry up to 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 hard points: 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.