Yak-141 Returns: Vertical Takeoff Aircraft Coming Soon to the Russian Navy?

According to Military Watch Magazine Published on July 15th – 2018. We might see  Yak-141 Returns: Vertical Takeoff Aircraft Coming Soon to the Russian Navy?



During the Cold War the Soviet Union’s Yakovlev Design Bureau developed the Yak-38 Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) strike fighter to operate from the navy’s Kiev Class light carriers. Entering service in 1976 and serving until 1991, the year of the Soviet Union’s dissolution when the country’s four Kiev Class ships were retired due to budgetary restrictions. Even before the Yak-38 entered service, the Soviet Navy had already requested a more capable VTOL platform with superior capabilities to those of the Yak-38, with the aircraft serving as an interim platform for the Soviet Navy. The new VTOL platform was expected to have capabilities similar to the Soviet Air Force’s frontline fourth-generation fighters such as the MiG-29 and Su-27, and Yakovlev began work on the new platform before first deliveries of the Yak-38 to the Soviet Navy.



The Yak-141, also known as the Yak-41, would see its first flight 11 years later in 1987. The aircraft was significantly faster, more manoeuvrable, longer ranged, higher flying and better armed than its predecessor the Yak-38. In September 1991, just months before the Soviet disintegration, the Yak-141 made its first vertical landing on the heavily modified Kiev Class carrier Admiral Gorshkov. With the end of the Soviet Union and the subsequent decline of the Russian economy, which contracted over 40% from 1992 to 1997, Yakolev lost funding to continue the project. By then four working prototypes were in service.

X-35/ F-35B

There have been few developments for the Yak-141 project since 1991, and though U.S. defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin did briefly cooperate with Yakovlev, reportedly gaining critical technologies for its own X-35 short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) fighter which would come to be the F-35B, there appeared few prospects for the fighter ever seeing active service despite its advanced capabilities.

Is Vertical Takeoff Aircraft Coming Soon to the Russian Navy?


As of 2018 a number of recent developments within the Russian military, and the Russian Navy, in particular, could well lead to the revival of the Yak-141 program. As Russia’s economy began a slow recovery from the year 2000, and the country sought to enhance its military capabilities under a massive modernisation drive initiated in 2008, a number of the partially completed Soviet-era weapons program have been revived.

From the late 2000s, Chief of the Russian General Staff General Nikolai Makarov has strongly advocated the need for light carriers to enter service in the country’s navy, with four such carriers planned under a joint project with France from which Paris withdrew in 2014. Russia has since worked to develop the capabilities to built light carrier warships domestically, and according to Navy Deputy Commander in Chief Viktor Bursuk the country is set to begin construction of the first of these ships in 2020. Two carrier variants are currently planned, which have been referred to as the “universal amphibious assault ship” and “large amphibious assault ship.” The first of these are, according to Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov, set to enter service in the early 2020s, and the heavier class reportedly could displace up to 40,000 tons.

With the resurrection of a light carrier program, the Russian Navy will for the first time since the USSR’s fall have the need for advanced VTOL capable fighter aircraft. With a number of states which field light carriers set to acquire F-35B short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for their warships, Japan’s Izumo Class, the United States’ Wasp and America Class assault ships and Italy’s Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi among them, Russia may well follow this trend and attempt to induct a fighter with yet more sophisticated VTOL capabilities. With the Yak-141 already in late prototype stages at the time of its cancellation, research and development costs to move the design to a production ready stage would be significantly reduced.

With a significant demand for low-cost aircraft capable of operating from light carriers, with China, Thailand and South Korea all potential clients which field such warships, the Yak-141 could also potentially become a major export success for Russian military aviation. With China currently building three 075 amphibious assault ships, massive 40,000-ton vessels each capable of deploying up to 30 aircraft, Beijing is likely to be a major client for an advanced Russian VTOL fighter – with export sales subsiding the cost of starting the program and making it considerably more cost-effective.

Related Article: Why Russia Doesn’t Have Vertical Takeoff Fighter Jets?

The VTOL fighters are set to serve as an effective force multiplier for any carrier strike group which fields them, with the aircraft likely to deploy some of Russia’s most capable standoff weapons allowing them to threaten enemy aircraft and warships at extreme ranges.

Considering that the original Yak-141 was to be equipped with R-77 air to air missiles, long-range platforms and the most advanced in the Russian inventory at the time, it remains possible that a modern adaptation of the platform could deploy lethal new K-77 air to air missiles – platforms based on the R-77 but extensively modified for deployment by next-generation fighters and retains an unparalleled 193km strike range and a high degree of precision. State of the art anti-ship missiles far surpassing those fielded by Western carrier-based fighters such as the F-35B, weapons such as the Mach 3 Kh-41and 300km range Kh-35U and P-800, allow even relatively small carrier warships the size of the Dokdo or Mistral Class to deploy lethal firepower and thus gain an asymmetric advantage at sea by fielding even a small contingent of Yak-141 jets. Equipping the fighter with advanced AESA radars based on those recently developed for the MiG-35 and Su-57 also remains a significant possibility. Considering the high potential for exports and Russia’s considerable need for these aircraft for its own navy should the country’s light carrier program be seen through, the completion of the Yak-141 program and finally inducing the advanced fighter into active service, most likely with a number of modernisations applied, represents a potentially highly feasible project and one which there is a good chance the Russian military will pursue.

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One comment

  1. Why do you guys leave the fact that way way back in 1970s General Dynamics Convair and Pratt and Whitney developed the design and acquired the patent for the 3 bearing swivel duct (3BSD) for their Convair Model 200 proposal?

    Interest in designs for vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL, fighter aircraft began in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War when NATO bases were seen as vulnerable to preemptive attacks. Such aircraft, secured in hardened shelters, could still take off and land from bases with damaged runways.
    The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and France all built and tested multiple VTOL fighter designs. However, only the British Kestrel/Harrier family made it into service. Meanwhile, only the Yak-38, which used a similar engine and nozzle arrangement to the Harrier, saw service on the Russian side.
    US Navy studies in the 1960s evaluated Sea Control VTOL aircraft designed to operate from ships with smaller decks than from decks on traditional aircraft carriers. These proposed fighters would take off vertically with full loads. The Navy’s concept of operations would also require these aircraft operate as traditional carrier-launched fighters, which necessitated afterburning engines.
    This dual operational approach led to larger, heavier aircraft designs that needed more vertical thrust than could be provided by just the primary engine or engines. The most popular solution was to add small lift engines just aft of the cockpit to provide vertical thrust forward of the aircraft center of gravity. These designs were called Lift Plus Lift/Cruise. Allison, Rolls-Royce, and other engine manufacturers developed compact turbojet engines specifically for such applications. Various combinations of numbers and locations of engines were built and flown on several VTOL prototypes and experimental aircraft.
    Three-bearing swivel nozzle designs were studied by virtually all of the engine companies in the mid 1960s. The US Patent Office received applications for many variations of the 3BSD from Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, and even from Boeing Military Aircraft of Wichita, Kansas.
    By the late 1960s, Pratt & Whitney was designing and testing a three-bearing swivel nozzle for use on the Convair Model 200 Sea Control fighter. Design drawings dated 1967 show detail design layouts. The first nozzle was built and tested on a Pratt & Whitney JT8D in the mid 1960s. The tests included operating the nozzle in full afterburner with the nozzle deflected ninety degrees. The test rig was positioned to exhaust upward to avoid heating the ground under the test stand, though subsequent tests positioned the nozzle downward at the ground to assess the effects of ground proximity back pressure on nozzle performance.
    The Convair Model 200 was proposed in June 1972 to respond to the US Navy request for designs for a fighter/attack aircraft for the Sea Control Ships. The VTOL aircraft would have used a PW401 engine with an afterburning 3BSD plus twin Allison XJ99 lift engines located behind the cockpit for added vertical lift forward of the center of gravity to balance the aft nozzle thrust. To deal with ground environment generated by the combination of the afterburning rear nozzle and the high temperatures and pressures of the lift engines, the ships would be equipped with special vertical landing areas with metal grates to allow the hot air flow to pass through.

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