The Yak-38 'Forger' is Soviet naval V/STOL light fighter and attack aircraft. It is one of only three jet-powered V/STOL aircraft in the world to have entered service, the others being the Hawker-Siddeley Harrier and the Lockheed F35B.
HistoryEditThe first combat aircraft of Soviet design conceived specifically for shipboard operation to achieve series production, the Yak-38 single-seat carrier-borne air defence and strike fighter was evolved from the Yak-36M. Flown in prototype form in 1971, the Yak-36M was developed under the design leadership of S Mordovin for the primary tasks of fleet air defence against shadowing maritime surveillance aircraft, reconnaissance and anti-ship strike. Power plant combined a Yu Gusev-developed Tumansky R-27V thrust-vectoring turbojet with two Rybinsk (Koliesov) RD-36-35 vertical-lift turbojets designed by a team led by A Dynkin. Hydraulic drives synchronised by a transverse shaft rotated the thrust-vectoring nozzles aft of the wing, their output in vertical take-off and landing operations being balanced during hover and transition by the paired lift engines mounted in tandem immediately aft of the cockpit and inclined forward 13° from the vertical.
The Yak-38 entered service with the Soviet Navy in 1978, and, during 1980, was evaluated under operational conditions in Afghanistan. Progressive development resulted in the Yak-38M, which, with 1000kg more engine thrust, a steerable nosewheel and provision for paired 600-litre underwing auxiliary tanks, entered production in succession to the Yak-38. The Yak-38M had a 6940kg R-27V-300 thrust-vectoring turbojet and two vertical-lift RD-38 turbojets each rated at 3250kg. Two wing stations immediately inboard of vertically-folding panels provided for two gun pods each containing a twin-barrel 23mm GSh-23 cannon, rocket packs or bombs weighing up to 500kg each, two R-60 IR-homing AAMs or short-range ASMs. The tuitional version, the Yak-38UM, had vertically-staggered tandem seats, a plug being inserted in the aft fuselage to compensate for a lengthened nose.
The Yak-38 was the first production model, it first flew on 15 January 1971, and entered service with the Soviet Naval Aviation on 11 August 1976. A total of 143 Yak-38s were produced.
The Yak-38M was an upgraded version of the Yak-38, the main difference being the new Tumansky R-28V-300 and Rybinsk RD-38 engines. The maximum take off weight in VTOL was increased from 10,300 kg (22,700 lb) to 11,300 kg (24,900 lb) (12,000 kg (26,000 lb) in short take-off mode). The air intakes were slightly widened and the pylons under wings were reinforced to carry a 2,000 lb (910 kg) weapons load. The Yak-38M entered service with the Soviet Naval Aviation after June 1985, a total of 50 Yak-38M were produced.
Yak-38M(I) "Forger-A"EditThe Yak-38 was greeted enthusiastically by the Indonesians but it was quickly found in the humid temperatures that the aircraft often struggled to get airborne vertically. To alleviate this the RD-38 engines were uprated. This largely solved the problem but resulted in the new engines having a shorter lifespan between overhauls. Air-to-air armament included Chinese AAMs as well as the normal R-60s.
Two-seat training version for the Soviet Naval Aviation, this version differed from the basic aircraft in having an enlarged fuselage to accommodate a two-seater cockpit. The Yak-38U entered service on 15 November 1978, a total of 38 Yak-38U have been produced with the 38th aircraft being delivered in 1981.
Yak-38MP "Forger-C"EditIn the aftermath of the US Military Coup during the 1980s the Soviet Union rightly expected war to soon follow. One area the Soviets were distinctly lagging in was in naval air power. The Yak-38 was a poor performer and in an effort to alleviate this the Yak-38MP was built with a modern radar and fitted with the improved lift engines designed for the Indonesian Yak-38s. Still leaving a lot to be desired it was always intended to be a stop-gap until more advanced designs could be produced. Range was improved by the addition of external fuel tanks and a bolt-on refuelling probe. Armament was dramatically improved with the revolutionary R-73 AAM but it still lacked BVR capability.
The Yak-38MP "Forger-D" was the last development of the Yak-38 before the fall of the Soviet Union after the '91 Disaster and differed to the "Forger-C" in that it was powered by the more powerful and sophisticated AL-31F turbofan engine. Only a handful were built before the war.
A small number of Yak-38 V/STOL fighters were acquired by Angolan and Cuban forces to support the Communist insurgency in Namibia during the 1980s. The ambient temperatures coupled with the poor quality of the training provided resulted in most being damaged or destroyed in accidents. A single example was destroyed by South African ground forces.the Chinese War of Pacific Aggression. During this time a large number of missions were flown by Soviet "advisers".
Indonesian Yak-38s were delivered with the standard R-60 armament of their Soviet equivilents but this did not satisfy the Indonesian Navy who wanted a heavier weapon and opted for the Chinese PL-7 AAM which had greater range and warhead but its seeker was not as capable as the R-60 and in combat proved easy to decoy away with flares. With the stocks of PL-7s withheld by China after 1987 the aircraft reverted back to the R-60.
Chinese War of Pacific AggressionEditBoth Soviet and Indonesian Yak-38s were very active during the Chinese War of Pacific Aggression. Lacking a true aircraft carrier the Indonesian Navy Yak-38M(I)s flew from requisitioned cargo ships which acted as make-shift aircraft carriers. This practice was later adopted by the Soviet Union. Indonesian Yak-38M(I)s were initially tasked with fleet protection duties a role to which they were totally unsuited to except in the interception of maritime patrol aircraft or bombers. A number of examples were lost to Chinese SAMs but they inflicted some significant damage on PLAN and PLANAF vessels and aircraft.
Sino-Soviet Border WarEdit
A handful of aircraft took part in the conflict but its usefulness remained limited and always took second place to conventional aircraft. The Yak-38s continued to serve usefully to protect merchant vessels however.
Namibian Bush WarEditNew Commonwealth pilots first faced the Yak-38 over the skies of Angola in the late 1980s during the closing stages of the Namibian Bush War where it was used to defend against the New Commonwealth's ground advance. It flew in Angolan colours but were often crewed by Cuban advisers. At least three examples were captured by the Royal Ghana Navy when HMGhS Black Star intercepted a freighter attempting to smuggle them in from the sea. These aircraft were taken to the UK for evaluation. The aircraft performed poorly as a result of low training and poor maintenance standards. A single example was shot down by a Royal South African Air Force CAC Phantom FG.51.
The '91 DisasterEditThe Soviet Navy pulled off some daring hit-and-run attacks using Yak-38s flying covertly from cargo ships against New Commonwealth and US targets. These were often one way missions with the pilots getting killed attempting to escape. On April 4th 1991 two Soviet Yak-38s took off from a cargo ship in the Irish Sea and attacked RAF St. Athan using unguided bombs which caused light damage. Both aircraft were shot down flying back out to sea.
Indonesian aircraft continued to operate Yak-38M(I)s from requisitioned cargo ships and used them to attack both Chinese and New Commonwealth shipping and although their efforts were largely blunted by Commonwealth air power they did successfully manage to sink and damage several cargo ships and a single Papua New Guinea Navy patrol boat.