The Forger provided the main Soviet carrier based fighter during the Cold war. In July 1976 the Soviet warship the Kiev entered the Mediterranean Sea via the Bosporus. Although classed as an anti submarine cruiser to get round the 1936 Treaty of Montreux, which prohibited aircraft carriers going through the Turkish strait, the Kiev was clearly an aircraft carrier. Upon her decks sat Yak -38s. The Yak-38 had clearly evolved from the earlier Yak-36 ‘Freehand’ VTOL aircraft first seen by the West in 1967. After the British Harrier the Forger was the World's second operational VTOL aircraft. Ironically of the 6 Yak-38s on the Kiev only 3 were operational and by the end of the voyage only one was airworthy, a sign of things to come.
Information on the Forger was scarce for a considerable time. It was clearly a VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft and much like the British Harrier it had a small wing compared to its fuselage. Two variants were identified with a single seat Forger A and a two seater, possibly a trainer, named the Forger B by NATO. The aircraft was generally primitive and lacked search or track functions on its radar making it ill suited to night or bad weather operations, seriously affecting any Fleet air defence role. One role it did have was to intercept and shoot down any surveillance aircraft shadowing the fleet such as BAe Nimrods or Lockheed P-3 Orions but its chances of survival against contemporary Western carrier fighters and interceptors such as Sea harriers or F-14 Tomcats seems slim.
The Forger had no internal weapons and normally carried gun pods and two types of Air to Air missile. It lacks basic dogfighting avionics and deflection shooting during air combat would be difficult with its gun pods. In its secondary role of attacking land targets and surface ships it would have fared a little better. Able to carry AS-7 Kerry short range anti ship missiles or a variety of rockets and bombs it has four hard points under the wings but it was rare to see all four carrying weapons - extra fuel drop tanks were much more common. In 1985 it was believed it could carry up to 8,000lbs of weapons. At first it was thought the Forger could only take off using VTOL and not use the STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) mode that British Sea harriers can use to carry heavier bomb loads but this was proved incorrect in 1984 when Forgers were observed using this technique.
In many ways the Forger was a dire aircraft. In hot conditions its combat radius dropped so far as to make it nearly useless, and it was woefully unreliable with an average engine life of 22 hours. It was difficult to fly and loathed by the pilots who had to fly it, many going on the sick rather than risk flying it.
Generally the Forger was viewed as a stop gap fighter to serve only while the Soviets gained more experience of VTOL engines and carrier operations but ten years after it first came into service it was still going strong. Its deployment was limited - it relyed on its parent ship to guide it in to land using a computerised system so it had no use in land warfare. It was thought that 100 were produced and up to 20 were lost in accidents. With the fall of the Soviet empire any plans for a next generation of Super Carrier fell through and Soviet Naval aviation development stalled. After a crash in June 1991 the Yak-38 Forger was withdrawn from service, much to the relief of its pilots.
Max speed; 980 km/h (610 mph)
Service Ceiling; 40,000ft
Max combat radius; 240km (150miles)