First and foremost, the Yak-130 is hailed as a prime lead-in fighter trainer – superior to anything the US has at the moment. Student pilots fly the Yak-130s to master the intricate art of operating fourth and fifth-generation fighter jets.
But the subsonic two-seat aircraft NATO calls Mitten has also proved itself as a credible low-cost alternative to expensive combat aircraft. It is capable of carrying out light-attack and reconnaissance missions.
"The Yak-130 is a proven lead-in fighter-trainer with combat capability that can also serve in the kind of counter-insurgency war that the US Air Force has found itself fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria," defense analyst Thomas Newdick observed. "Small and agile, but able to pack a punch, the Yak-130 is also useful in … asymmetric warfare."
Not surprisingly, many countries, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Vietnam, are contemplating adding Yak-130s to their arsenal. And the primary reason for the purchase is not its training capabilities.
"Most of the other nations that have looked at the Yak-130 have counter-insurgency or other light combat requirements, on top of any training role," Newdick noted in an article titled " Russia's Lethal Yak-130 Fighter: The Tiny Terror NATO Should Fear."
The aircraft was originally developed by the JSC A.S. Yakovlev design bureau and Italian aircraft manufacturer Aermacchi as part of a joint project, which also gave birth to the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master.
- Russia's Air Force rehearses for May 9 Victory Day parade air show© Sputnik / Anton Denisov
- A Russian Yakovlev Yak-130 Mitten subsonic two-seat advanced jet trainer performs during the MAKS-2015, the International Aviation and Space Show, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, on August 25, 2015© AFP 2020 / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV
- Yakovlev Yak-130© Flickr / Ronnie Macdonald
- Yak-130 aircraft during a demonstration flight at the MAKS-2013 Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky.© Sputnik / Ramil Sitdikov
The M-346 is essentially a modified version of the Yak-130. Pilots in Italy and Israel will fly it in their training for the newest US fifth-generation fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II. The model could also be used to replace aging American jet trainers.
The aircraft made its maiden flight in 1996 and entered service in 2010. Russia's Defense Ministry purchased nearly 70 planes and placed an order for 150 Yak-130s to be delivered by 2020. The plane was also sold to Belarus and Algeria. Bangladesh is said to be the next country to ink a deal for the delivery of the Mitten.
"Which is an ironic twist. It's not inconceivable that Russian and American pilots destined for the 'fifth-generation' T-50 and F-35 will both learn how to fly in what is very nearly the same aircraft," the analyst stated.