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The Soviet Navy ‘Forger’: Yak-36M, Yak-38, Yak-38U and Yak-38M
By Thomas Newdick (with captions by Roel Van de Velde)
Nov 27, 2004, 03:14

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Yak-36M and the Early Programme

An initial order for an operational VTOL (in Russian SVVP) ship-borne jet fighter for the Soviet navy was placed in December 1967, after the successful demonstration of the Yakovlev Yak-36 (‘Freehand’) experimental jet-lift aircraft, which had begun its flight test programme at Zhukovskii in early 1963. Aleksandr S. Yakovlev had originally proposed a small batch of additional Yak-36s, intending that these would be used for continued development of the VTOL concept, which would have included pilot training and extended shipboard trials. However, the official development order of December 1967 was much more far-sighted than Yakovlev’s original suggestion, covering an aircraft suitable for land-based and naval use, and specifying separate interceptor and light-attack versions in addition to a dedicated trainer.

By this stage, Admiral Gorshkov’s multi-role ‘aviation cruiser’ programme – which would reach its Cold War apogee in the first four ships of the Soviet navy’s Project 1143 Krechyet (‘Kiev’) class (including Kiev, 1143/Project Krechyet, commissioned in May 1975; Minsk, 1143.2, commissioned in February 1978; Novorossiysk, 1143.3/1143M, commissioned in September 1982, and Baku, 1143.4 commissioned in June 1988, later renamed to Admiral Gorshkov) – was beginning to have a significant influence on naval aircraft development. Indeed, had it not been for the emergence of this new class of warship, it is almost certain that Soviet VTOL aircraft development would have ended with the Yak-36. As it was, the design of the subsequent Yak-38 was governed by the need to operate from small aircraft-carrier decks. The joint requirement specified by the AV-MF (Aviatsiya Voyenno-Morskovo Flota, naval air force) and VVS (Voyenno-Vozdushniye Sily, air force) that was finalised in January 1969 thus envisaged a high-subsonic aircraft for operations from ‘aviation cruisers’ as well as from unprepared landing strips. In fact, the presence of the VVS during the design phase was more the result of Soviet methods of military planning and procurement rather than a reflection of genuine interest on the part of the air chiefs; by this stage, it was clear that the new aircraft would be tailored for naval needs.

The aircraft was to be realised under a two-tier development programme, intended to yield two distinct variants. The primary role of the initial version was to be light attack – in practice this would be mainly anti-shipping strike – with a secondary day-interception function (for the latter duty, targets were to include hostile ASW and maritime reconnaissance aircraft and naval helicopters). The first-phase aircraft was also to be capable of conducting coastal strike missions and offering limited close-support to amphibious forces. The ultimately abortive second phase of development called for radar and medium-range AAMs to be integrated in the same basic airframe later in the programme. This would have resulted in the more advanced Yak-36P (Perekhvatchik, interceptor), a supersonic variant optimised for air defence duties.

Under Yakovlev’s order, the Vertikalnyi Modifitsirovannyi (VM) programme had actually commenced in January 1968, a year before the official forces’ requirement was formulated, and construction of the first VM prototype began in January 1969. Following ground testing, a VM test fuselage was slung underneath a Tu-16LL to undertake airborne engine trials in July 1970.

Four VM prototype aircraft (VM-01 to VM-04) were eventually completed at Yakovlev’s Saratov production centre, the first example being allocated for ground-based testing. VM-01 undertook tethered hover testing with the LII (Letno-Issledovatelskii Institut, Ministry of Aviation Industry Flight Research Institute) at Zhukovskii during May-July 1970. An initial free hover followed in September 1970. A first conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) flight profile was completed by VM-02 – the first true flying prototype – at Zhukovskii in December 1970, however, a full two-transition flight (VTO, high-speed horizontal flight, vertical landing) was not recorded until early 1972. In November 1972, VM-02 made the type’s first vertical deck landing – which was followed by a full two-transition flight – during trials aboard the ASW cruiser Moskva (lead vessel of the two-ship Project 1123 Kondor class), which had been specially fitted with a heat-resistant deck.

Yak-36M: Initial Production Version

The VM was ordered into series production for the AV-MF as the Yak-36M (the suffix letter signifying either Modifitsirovannyi – modified, or Morskoi – sea) following the completion of VM prototype testing in September 1974. Completed in late 1974, the first three examples of the production Yak-36M were delivered to the NII-VVS (Nauchno-Issledovatelskii Institut, Science and Research Institute of the VVS) at Akhtubinsk, to a special-purpose AV-MF base near Nikolayev on the Black Sea coast, and to the LII at Zhukovskii, respectively. Subsequent production aircraft were completed at Saratov in batches of five (second series only) and then 10 aircraft, the majority of the initial production output being used for trials purposes at Saki.

Four Yak-36M lined up next to the island structure onboard the Kiev, the lead vessel of the Kiev Class aircraft carrying cruisers. Four of these cruisers were built. The ships mostly only carried eight Yak-36M (later re-designated Yak-38) VSTOL planes in addition to a lot of Kamov Ka-27 helicopters.


Powerplant

Supersonic performance was considered for the VM during the design phase (an early concept proposed an aircraft with two 64.7-kN Tumanskii R-27VM-300 engines and theoretically capable of a speed of 2000 km/h at altitude), but this was rejected in favour of a more easily attainable Mach 0.95 capability.

For lift and cruise modes, a single R-27V-300 engine equipped with a plenum chamber directed thrust through two rotating exhaust nozzles, these being arranged as one each on either side of the rear fuselage, each with a rotational arc of 95°. The production R-27V-300 was certified at a thrust rating of 66.7 kN in late 1976; the initial rating of this unit had been 57.9 kN. The engine was essentially a vectored-thrust, non-afterburning version of the turbojet used in the MiG-23 and had previously been employed (in a twin installation) by the experimental Yak-36.

The main engine alone did not develop enough power or provide the required stability for vertical flight modes, and was therefore supplemented by two 28.4-kN thrust Kolesov RD-36-35FV lightweight lift engines. The basic version of this turbojet, the RD-36-35, had previously been used to reduce the take-off run of experimental versions of the MiG-21, MiG-23, Su-15 and Tu-22R; two pairs of RD-36-35s were also installed in the prototype Su-24 tactical bomber. The RD-36-35FVs were simple, single-shaft units arranged in vertical tandem configuration within the forward fuselage immediately aft of the cockpit, and angled aft at 10° from the vertical. In order to ensure a smooth transition from vertical to horizontal flight – or vice versa – the lift engines were ultimately fitted with deflector vanes that directed the thrust over a range of 30° fore and aft. A rear-hinged door incorporating 24 spring-loaded louvres covered the intakes for the lift engines during horizontal flight.

Additional control for the low-speed and VTOL flight regimes was provided by main-engine bleed air, dispensed from reaction-control valves located above and below the wingtips, and below the nose and tailcone.

The same Yak-38 aircraft lines up in the normal parking area of the Kiev. The planes were brought up by two elevators and then parked on aft starboard deck. From there the planes that had to do a mission were brought to one of the six aircraft pads. At first it was thought that this type was a pure vertical launch and recovery aircraft. It was tested on land in the beginning of the year 1970, by the end of that year, the first short conventional take-off was done. Two years later, in 1972, the plane was first tested onboard the Moskva helicopter cruiser. Later, when the aircraft was approved, it was placed on the first Kiev class cruiser for active service.


Mission-Specific Systems

Designed in conjunction with Yakovlev, the SK-EM (Sistema Katapultirovaniya Ekstremalnaya, extreme ejection initiation system), which had earlier been evaluated in the Yak-36, was engaged when the aircraft left the deck and was engineered to automatically eject the pilot on his ‘zero-zero’ seat on the failure of any one of the three engines. In addition, the SK-EM monitored parameters relating to aircraft attitude and rate of descent; any combination of dangerous factors resulted in an automatic pilot ejection. The system disengaged as the main engine nozzles rotated for horizontal flight, or it could be deactivated manually. In case of an emergency at sea, the pilot’s seat was ejected towards the port side, avoiding the possibility of a collision with the ship’s starboard-side superstructure. On at least one occasion the SK-EM functioned unexpectedly, ejecting a Yak-36M pilot through the cockpit canopy while transitioning to normal level flight; another Yak-36M accident resulted in injury to the pilot as a result of the SK-EM having been disengaged during the landing phase.

The original ejection system was replaced on production Yak-38s by the SK-EMII unit, used in conjunction with the improved K-36VM ejection seat; the latter was fitted as standard from the third production batch onwards, and was retrofitted to earlier aircraft, supplanting Yakovlev’s own KYa-1M that had also been used in the VM prototypes. The pilots themselves were provided with VK-3 or VK-3M high-altitude pressure suits for overland flights, while VMSK-2 or VMSK-4 combined high-altitude/immersion suits were standard issue for maritime operations, the latter being specially intended for aircrew survival in Arctic waters.

The SAU-36 automatic flight-control system was also inherited from the experimental Yak-36 and was engaged during most flight operations. The definitive flight data computer was the Tester-UZYa or UZL, capable of monitoring 50 parameters simultaneously. Additional avionics systems included the RSBN-36 short-range navaid, RV-5 radar altimeter, R-860-I radio, ARK-15M radio compass, MRP-56P marker receiver and SSh-45-100-OS photographic control equipment. The SRO-2M IFF system was also fitted.

ThreeYak-38M - an improved Yak-38 version - as seent onboard the Kiev class carrier Baku. Baku was later renamed Admiral Gorshkov and was the last of the class and of an improved Kiev design. She was the only Kiev class vessel that was later taken in service with the Russian Navy. The other three vessels of the class were either scrapped (Novorosiysk) or sold to China (Minsk and Kiev, both used as amusement parks/museums).


Armament

Lack of mission-optimised radar or targeting systems greatly reduced the Yak-38’s potential air-to-air and attack capabilities. Although projected later variants would have added radar and medium-range air-to-air missiles, defensive weapons options of the basic Yak-38 were limited to the R-60 and R-60M (AA-8 ‘Aphid’) series infra-red guided AAMs, four examples of which could be carried on short-range missions.

Early in the design phase it had been intended to incorporate a pair of 225P 23-mm cannon in the fixed wing sections, but these were never adopted; a single aircraft was test-fitted with a twin-barrel 23-mm GSh-23L cannon in an under-fuselage VSPU-36 pack (some reports suggest this arrangement was actually an operational fit, although only available when a STOL profile was used). Since there was no standard provision for internal gun armament, twin-barrel 23-mm UPK-23-250 cannon pods were a regular fixture on the outer wing pylons.

The cropped-delta wings featured strengthened ribs inboard of each aileron, supporting a total of four hard-points under the fixed inner wing. For STOL operations the Yak-38 could carry a theoretical total of 2000 kg of external stores, but this figure was reduced by half when a VTOL flight profile was used, and in practice only two pylons regularly carried stores. The adoption of a rolling take-off increased weapons/internal fuel carriage by 1400 kg, and a further minor increase was permitted with the use of a run-on landing.

Prototype VM-02 conducted trials using the Kh-23M (AS-7 ‘Kerry’) command-guided air-to-surface missile, which represented the Yak-38’s most potent – and most important – air-to-ground (anti-ship) weapon. For Kh-23M operations the aircraft was equipped with a Delta-NG radio-command guidance pod scabbed under the fuselage. The fact that it was compatible with the Delta-NG equipment meant that the radio-command guidance Kh-25MR (AS-10 ‘Karen’) ASM could also be launched.

Alternative Yak-38 weapons options were based around the normal range of Soviet tactical ordnance: various free-fall bombs of weights up to 500 kg (including a maximum of two 500-kg or four 250-kg class weapons), and unguided rockets of calibres up to 240 mm. For the tactical nuclear strike role, the aircraft could carry a single RN-28 nuclear bomb.

As a result of the powerplant changes introduced by the Yak-38M, the payload was increased, each wing pylon now being stressed for theoretical loads of 1000 kg, with the inner pair plumbed for the carriage of drop tanks. In the event, the Yak-38M was never operationally equipped with the external tanks that it so desperately required; as it was, the Yak-38 was limited to a maximum 75-minute loiter time for defensive missions.

The Yak-38 pilot made use of an ASP-PFD-21 weapons sight, originally designed for the MiG-21, which was linked to a simple ranging-radar set in the nose. Radar warning equipment was based on the Sirena-3M system, while the jamming suite made use of the internal Sirena-I or Gvozdika active systems.

A Yak-38 landing on the Kiev. The aircraft had only two trainable nozzles on the back of the fuselage. In addition to this, it had two engines directed vertically to help during vertical take-off and landing. This configuration required a lot fuel and extra weight. In addition to this, the aircraft had very small wings and only four hardpoints for the carriage of weapons and additional fuel tanks. All in all, the aircraft was dangerous to fly and rather a moral air-support than an efficient air defence tool. It was terrible to fly due to the unstable engine configuration and not rather hated by the pilots who had to fly it.


Operational Service

The Yak-36 had conducted trials aboard Moskva in the late 1960s, and the subsequent Yak-36M series was originally intended for limited operations from Moskva and Leningrad – the two Project 1123 (‘Moskva’ class) helicopter cruisers – as well as the larger Project 1143 (‘Kiev’ class) ships. The first Yak-36M landings on Kiev were made in May 1975, the vessel having been commissioned in the same month.

The majority of Yak-36M initial production deliveries were to the 279 OKShAP (Otdelnyi Korabelnyi Shturmovoi Aviatsionnyi Polk, Independent Shipboard Attack Air Regiment) initially based at Saki, the AV-MF’s training centre in the Crimea. Pilots for this unit were drawn from the Yakovlev OKB and the LII at Zhukovskii, as well as from the AV-MF. Established as early as December 1973, the 279 OKShAP of the Black Sea Fleet made use of a dummy Project 1143 deck, and also operated a pair of MiG-21UMs (and, briefly, Ka-25s) for training. The unit recorded its first Yak-36M flight in March 1975. Pilots from the unit made their first landings on Kiev in April 1976, after state and OKB trials had been conducted onboard the ship in the Black Sea. The first AV-MF squadron embarked in Kiev in July 1976, the ship’s air wing comprising six Yak-36Ms and one Yak-36MU, plus 15 Ka-25s. Of the six Yak-36Ms embarked at the outset of the first cruise, only three were considered fully operational; by the end of the cruise, only one example was still flying. The aircraft was extensively photographed during this shakedown cruise (during which Kiev sailed from the Black Sea, through the Mediterranean, heading north via the Iceland-Faeroes gap, to join the Northern Fleet at Murmansk) and the aircraft was allocated the reporting name ‘Forger-A’ by the ASCC. This was the first opportunity for NATO to observe both Kiev and the Yak-36M.

On the conclusion of acceptance tests for the Yak-36M initial series in August 1976 (Kiev was underway in the Atlantic at this point), the aircraft was formally accepted by the AV-MF in October, under the new designation Yak-38.

On its arrival in Murmansk, the 279 OKShAP was transferred to the Northern Fleet, with subsequent flying operations mainly being conducted from Severomorsk-3. The 299 IIAP (Issledovatlesko-Instruktorskiy Aviatsionnyi Polk, Research and Instructor Air Regiment) had been formed as a training unit at Saki in September 1976 to replace the previous unit within the Black Sea Fleet.

The February 1978 entry to service of Minsk, the second ship of the Project 1143 class, was accompanied by a further series of Yak-38 shipboard trials, beginning in April 1978, and with the emphasis now placed on developing procedure for STOL operations. The passage of Minsk out of the Black Sea in February 1979 was duly followed by a major exercise involving the first two ships of the Project 1143 class in the Mediterranean. On this occasion, five aircraft from each vessel conducted formation exercises in proximity to NATO observers.

The Yak-38’s limited useful payload was always its Achilles’ heel, but the high ambient temperatures that had been encountered in the Black Sea during the summer 1976 trials frequently prevented the aircraft from carrying any external stores at all, despite a reduced fuel load. Similar problems were then encountered when Minsk sailed off the coast of West Africa and then in the Indian Ocean; in these instances the lift jets proved unwilling to start under hot and humid conditions. (An oxygen-boosting intake system helped alleviate the problem, and was installed from September 1979 during routine overhauls). In July 1979 Minsk arrived in the Sea of Japan, where the vessel was home-ported at Strelok Bay, the Yak-38 component of its air wing thereafter being provided by the 311 OKShAP subordinate to the Pacific Fleet. The 311 OKShAP was the second AV-MF Yak-38 unit, and had been established in March 1976.

During its first few years of ship-borne operations the Yak-38 was not cleared to make rolling take-offs and run-on landings, leading some Western observers to believe that the fundamentals of its propulsion design restricted the type to VTOL operations. In fact, shipboard short take-off trials had begun by December 1979, while experiments with run-on landings followed onboard Minsk between September 1980 and February 1981. V/STOL operations were made easier by the addition of a refined automatic flight-control system, linked to a thumb switch on the pilot’s stick. Rolling take-offs were conducted with the lift engines deflected aft, the main engine nozzles being rotated automatically from 60° to 25° during the take-off run, before being slowly returned to the horizontal as the lift engines were shut down.

The Project 1143 ships normally embarked a total of 12 single-seat Yak-38s, supplemented by two or three two-seat Yak-38Us, as part of an independent aviation regiment that also included two squadrons of (mainly anti-submarine warfare) helicopters. Of the seven landing pads available on the deck of each of the Project 1143s, all but one could accommodate the Yak-38.

During April and May 1980 four Yak-38s and four AV-MF pilots were deployed to Afghanistan as part of a 50-day trial codenamed Romb-1, although the ‘hot and high’ conditions prevented any meaningful combat missions from being undertaken – in total, 12 combat sorties were made, but only two 100-kg bombs could be carried. In the event, any involvement would have been further limited by the ‘near-operational’ nature of the Romb-1 deployment (which also involved the first and third prototype Su-25s). The aircraft involved were not intended to be subject to combat, but rather tested under conditions that simulated the battlefield to a high degree. Despite their official non-operational nature, aircraft involved in the Romb trials could be requested to undertake combat sorties by local divisional commanders, on an ad hoc basis. The Yak-38s and prototype Su-25s operated out of a specially prepared air base near Shindand. Even with a much-reduced fuel and weapons load, the Yak-38 proved incapable of operating during the hot daylight hours (after around 0500 hrs); on the basis of this poor showing, the VVS quickly lost any remaining interest it had in the type.

Four Yak-38s parked at the Minsk (second of the Kiev class) parking deck. The Yak-38 have distinguishable hatches just behind the glass cockpit which have to be opened during the landing and take-off to allow the front, vertically mounted engines, to get air.


In September 1982 Novorossiysk, the third Project 1143 vessel, was commissioned. By now the V/STOL technique had been well practised, and the resulting increase in the Yak-38’s overall performance and capability was exploited during the passage of Novorossiysk from Severomorsk to join the Pacific Fleet. In a maritime context, the Yak-38 was not limited to the decks of the Project 1143 class. In September 1983 AV-MF pilots operated from the civilian ‘Ro-Ro’ vessel Agostinio Neto, and NII-VVS pilots conducted further tests from another ‘Ro-Ro’, Nikolai Cherkasov. In both cases, use was made of a heat-resistant landing platform; further land-based trials tested the practicality of dispersed landing platforms, in a similar concept to the RAF’s Harrier operations in West Germany.

Start of Yak-38 (Bort 46) from container ship Nikolay Cherkasov. The second Yak-38 (Bort 44) can be seen on the front end of the "flying" deck. (via Roel van de Velde)


Yak-38 Service Upgrades

An almost constant programme of refinements helped remove some of the operational limitations suffered by the Yak-38 in its initial form. Soon after official service entry, the main engine was cleared to operate at increased thrust outputs, as mentioned earlier, while the vertical flight performance (and consequently the load-carrying capability) of the Yak-38 was further enhanced by the adoption of the improved (faster-turning) RD-36-35FVR lift engines each developing 29.9 kN of thrust. First tested on prototype VM-04 in mid-1974, the new lift engines were retrofitted fleet-wide from around 1976.

Another refinement to the existing design saw the addition of supplementary, paired ventral strakes under the fuselage (running from the lift-engine exhausts to the main engine jet-pipes), and long dorsal fences flanking the lift-engine air intakes; while the former limited engine gas re-ingestion, the latter helped prevent lift-engine compressor stalls by reducing the effect of turbulence on the inlets.

Two Yak-38M aircraft parked at the stern of the Minsk. The Yak-38M had better engines, a slightly altered and better aerodynamic shape and was therefore slightly faster and had a better range than the original Yak-38. The initial colour scheme worn by the AV-MF Yak-38 consisted of dark green anti-corrosion paint on the undersides of the aircraft, with dark blue upper surfaces. This was later replaced by a light grey over dark grey scheme, frequently associated with the Yak-38M. An unusual green-over-silver ‘tiger’ camouflage scheme, reportedly seen on an aircraft onboard Leningrad in 1986, was probably applied for one cruise only. Special camouflage schemes may also have been applied to aircraft involved in the Romb-1 trials in Afghanistan in 1980.


Yak-38U Trainer

A two-seat conversion trainer derivative was proposed at the beginning of the development programme of the Yak-36M (then still known as VM), and was officially requested together with the single-seat version in December 1967. The official specification approved in March 1971 included provision for 500 kg of weapons on two underwing hard-points for operational training, but this capability never featured in production machines.

First flying in August 1972, the VMU-01 first prototype added – in typical Soviet style – a second cockpit for the pupil in front of the previous pilot’s position; this necessitated an enlarged forward fuselage, a lengthened rear fuselage, and a distinctive hump-backed profile to provide the instructor with a degree of forward vision. The SK-EM automatic ejection system was linked to twin K-36VMU ejection seats, housed in an un-pressurised cockpit under twin canopies. Additional equipment changes included the SAU-36U automatic flight-control system and SPU-9 intercom.

A complete flight profile was not completed by the VMU-01 until March 1974, and the type was built in series from April 1976, the production variant being ordered as the Yak-36MU (or Yak-36U, Uchebnyi), a designation altered to Yak-38U on the type’s service entry. Testing was concluded at Saki in September 1977, and the two-seater was finally accepted into the fleet in November 1978, the aircraft being assigned the ASCC reporting name ‘Forger-B’. Yak-38U production was completed with the delivery of the 38th example in 1981.

One of the very few Yak-36MU trainer aircraft. This version was developed from the original Yak-36M as a two-seat trainer. The nose was slightly enlarged and canted down, so that the sight of the aft seat, where the instructor was seated, was very good. The trainee was in the front seat


Yak-38M

A total of 143 single-seat Yak-38s was built at Saratov, and deliveries to the AV-MF were completed in 1981. In the meantime the OKB had studied a variety of advanced V/STOL warplanes, including supersonic variants and derivatives equipped with all-weather radar. Eventually, Yakovlev and the AV-MF opted for a more modest upgrade, authorised in March 1981, with a more powerful main engine allied to the existing Yak-38 airframe. The chosen powerplant was an evolutionary development of the R-27V-300, the Soyuz/Tumanskii R-28V-300 lift/cruise engine, rated at 65.7 kN of vertical thrust. This was combined with two 31.9-kN thrust Rybinsk RD-38 lift engines, the latter unit being a development of the earlier RD-36-35FVR. In addition to the up-rated underwing hard-points outlined earlier, other alterations introduced by the Yak-38M included widened main-engine air intakes and power steering on the nose-wheel.

Construction of four VMM flying prototypes (designated 82-1 to 82-4, the first of which was a converted Yak-38) began in 1982, with a first hover being conducted in November that year, with a full flight profile in February 1983. A production run of 50 Yak-38M series aircraft was complemented by a limited number of surviving Yak-38s that were upgraded to a similar standard.

The first VMM prototype undertook initial ship-borne trials on Minsk in spring 1984, with formal service entry of the Yak-38M following in June 1985; production aircraft were delivered to the two Yak-38 combat regiments within the Northern and the Pacific Fleets (the 279 and 311 OKShAPs), with a smaller number going to the Yak-38 training regiment with the Black Sea Fleet (the 299 IIAP). Surviving Yak-38s were mostly replaced by the Yak-38M during the first half of the 1980s, and the final examples of the latter, definitive variant were delivered in 1988, by which time AV-MF Yak-38 strength stood at 146 aircraft. The ASCC reporting name for the Yak-38M remained ‘Forger-A’.

In service, the Yak-38M was considered more reliable than its predecessor, while the new main engine improved performance characteristics. Nevertheless, the utility of the aircraft remained strictly limited, at least, beyond a training capacity. The basic Yak-38’s operational value was reflected in a combat range of approximately 380 km when armed with two Kh-23Ms, or 310 km carrying six 100-kg bombs. In addition, reliability was poor: the lift engines had a useful lifetime of about 20 hours, although this was marginally improved when a STOL flight profile was used.

With the withdrawal of the four Project 1143 vessels during the period immediately after the end of the Cold War, the three Yak-38 regiments quickly became redundant. Demoted to permanent shore bases and relegated to proficiency training flights, the units were rapidly disbanded. The aircraft were relegated to the reserve from July 1991, with the last aircraft reportedly being struck-off charge in early 1993, although regular AV-MF ‘Forger’ operations had ceased prior to this date.

A Yak-38M onboard Kiev during testing. Although the Yak-38 and Yak-38M were developed from the land-based Yak-36, the aircraft had almost nothing in common. The Yak-38 had a very limited radar and therefore could only be equipped with very short range anti-air missiles and unguided surface attack munitions. Some short range anti-ship missile had been suggested, but the aircraft was never seen with this missile.


Unbuilt V/STOL Projects:

Yak-36P (or Yak-36MF): intended supersonic follow-on to the attack-optimised Yak-36M, adding AI radar, medium-range AAMs and advanced navigation equipment. A third RD-36-35 lift jet was also added to cope with increased take-off weight

Yak-36-70F: 1970 project for supersonic light fighter with a pair of afterburning (hence ‘F’ suffix) lift/cruise engines, lift engines deleted, variable intakes, bicycle undercarriage

Yak-36A: project for version with R-49V lift/cruise engine and two lift engines; one fuselage completed for tests under Tu-16LL

Yak-36O: refined version of Yak-36M with 15000-kg thrust Type 55 (or subsequently R-61V) engine in redesigned fuselage

Yak-38L (Yak-38I?): AL-21F lift/cruise engine replacing R-27V-300

Yak-38MP: Yak-38M fitted with a weapons system derived from that of the MiG-29 and including N019 radar and advanced nav/attack suite

Yak-39: multi-role fighter/attack aircraft project dating from 1983, employing one R-28V-300 and two RD-48 engines, PRNK-39 avionics kompleks; S-41D multi-mode radar, larger wing, increased fuel capacity and expanded weapons options based around Shkval or Kaira PGM designation systems




Sources & Bibliography

- Yakovlev’s V/STOL Fighters, John Fricker and Piotr Butowski, Aerofax

- Soviet X-Planes, Bill Gunston and Yefim Gordon, Midland

- Yakovlev Aircraft since 1924, Bill Gunston & Yefim Gordon, Putnam

- Yakovlev VTOL Fighters: From ‘Freehand’ To ‘Freestyle’, Lt Col Anatoliy Artemyev,

- International Air Power Review, Volume 10

- Air International, various issues

- Jane’s Intelligence Review, various issues





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