The fifth-generation Sukhoi T-50   tend to grab the most headlines

This tiny Russian plane has a ridiculous number of weapons


In the world of Russian jet fighters, Moscow’s finest  —  such as the Flanker and the fifth-generation Sukhoi T-50  —  tend to grab the most headlines.


But the Yakovlev Yak-130, a comparatively non-glamorous twin-seat jet trainer, is quietly turning heads … because it’s obviously more than just a trainer. The twin-engine jet dubbed “Mitten” by Western intelligence is now showing its credentials as a genuine multi-role fighter.


When an air force wants to maximize its combat potential, a trainer  —  even a jet-powered one  —  might not be the most obvious choice of aircraft.


But today’s multi-role combat trainers are a viable and comparatively low-cost alternative to conventional fighters  —  even one that originates from behind the former Iron Curtain.


Like many post-Soviet military projects, it took a long time before any pilots got their hands on the Yak-130. But now the aircraft is showing up at the Russian air force’s advanced flight training schools.


Further, the Kremlin has begun deliveries to Belarus, a close military ally of Moscow. Previously, the Kremlin delivered Yak-130s to Algeria, another established customer of Russian-made warplanes.


Another option for a future upgrade is a flight refueling probe, which would expand the jet’s range for offensive missions.


Hang two 500-pound bombs, a gun pod and a pair of fuel tanks on a Yak-130 and it will have a maximum operational radius of 367 nautical miles. That’s fairly respectable compared to the F-16, which will haul two 2,000-pound bombs, two AIM-9 Sidewinders, and a pair of external fuel tanks over a radius of 740 nautical miles.


The subsonic Yak-130 belongs to a class of aircraft known as lead-in fighter trainers  —  or LIFTs. For a modern-day air force, LIFTs allow student pilots to familiarize themselves with the advanced technology they’ll encounter once strapped into a front-line fighter’s cockpit.


For its part, the U.S. Air Force is currently looking to buy 350 copies of a new LIFT to replace its hopelessly outdated T-38 Talon jet trainers. The Air Force calls the multi-billion-dollar program T-X.

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