Two Yak-130 combat trainers are currently in Iran’s 8th Tactical Air Force Base near Isfahan.
Images of the first Yak-130 Mitten aircraft for the IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) were released on Tasnim News Agency, a pro-regime outlet with close ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), on Sept. 2, 2023. At least two aircraft, 7-9700 and 7-9701, can be seen in the photos and video published by the State-run outlets.
According to the first reports, the jets are being tested in Iran’s 8th Tactical Air Force Base near Isfahan, ahead of the completion of the training of the first group of six Iranian Yak-130 instructor pilots in Russia.
The first two airframes were given some weird paint scheme whose colors (orange/white/green) remind the flag of India rather than that of Iran.
Targeted by stringent Western sanctions, Iran and Russia have boosted their cooperation in various key areas, including energy, trade and military. The most evident sign of the cooperation in the defense sector is the appearance of the Iranian-made Shahed-136 direct attack munitions (also called “kamizake drones”) in the Ukrainian war. Iran denied supplying drones to Russia, as this would require a UN Security Council approval based on the annexe to the 2015 resolution 2231 on Iran nuclear deal, that restricted ballistic missile activities and arms sales, but it later acknowledged the transfer, but said it came before the war in Ukraine.
The procurement of the new aircraft makes sense, as it paves the way to more advanced “hardware” to modernize Iran’s Air Force, currently mostly based on Soviet/Russian and U.S. types procured before the 1979 revolution.
In fact, Yak-130 can be used to train the Iranian pilots to fly 4th generation fighters: earlier this year, Iran announced that it had finalized a deal to buy as many as 24 Su-35 fighter jets from Russia.
Actually, Iranian authorities have often announced impending deals with Russia for the purchase of the Su-35S “Flanker E”, the 4++ generation variant of the Su-27 Flanker aircraft but despite the repeated claims, no deal has ever been finalised. According to some recent press reports, the deal to buy long-sought Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia may have collapsed, although it seems more likely that they deal has just been delayed. Meanwhile, the IRIAF can use the Yak-130 to prepare its aircrews to the Su-35.
The Yak 130 Mitten
The Yakovlev Yak-130 is a subsonic two-seat advanced trainer originally developed by Yakovlev and Aermacchi (now Leonardo).
Along with the advanced jet trainer role, the “Mitten” (Yak-130 NATO’s nickname), able to replicate the characteristics of Russian Gen. 4 and 4++ combat aircraft, is capable of fulfill Light Attack (LA) and Reconnaissance tasks and it can carry a payload of 3,000 kilograms, including guided and unguided weapons, external fuel tanks and electronic pods.
The LA version, dubbed YAK-131 and equipped with mechanical radar (Phazotron) or Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA), is planned to replace the Su-25 Frogfoot.The Russian Air Force has also developed a reconnaissance variant of the Mitten, dubbed Yak-133.
Externally, the Yak-130 bears a significant resemblance with Italian M-346 “Master”, produced by Leonardo Company and already operated by the ItAF (Italian Air force), IAF (Israeli Air Force), RSAF (Republic of Singapore Air Force), Polish Air Force, Hellenic Air Force, Turkmen Air Force and in the future Nigerian. However, the two aircraft are completely different, in terms of avionics, engine, with the Master being considered one of the world’s most advanced trainer, also thanks to a top notch ground based training system.