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Yakovlev Yak-38 (Forger)

Carrier-Borne VSTOL Strike Fighter / Fleet Defense Aircraft

Yakovlev Yak-38 (Forger)

Carrier-Borne VSTOL Strike Fighter / Fleet Defense Aircraft


The Yakovlev Yak-38 Forger was something of the Soviet answer to the VTOL British Harrier jump jet of the West.
National Flag Graphic
ORIGIN: Soviet Union
YEAR: 1976
STATUS: Retired, Out-of-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Yakovlev OKB - Soviet Union
OPERATORS: Soviet Union (retired)

Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Yakovlev Yak-38 (Forger-A) model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.
LENGTH: 50.85 feet (15.5 meters)
WIDTH: 23.95 feet (7.3 meters)
HEIGHT: 13.94 feet (4.25 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 16,281 pounds (7,385 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 25,794 pounds (11,700 kilograms)
ENGINE: 1 x Soyuz R-28V-300 vectored-thrust turbojet engines developing 14,770 lb of thrust; 2 x Rybinsk RD-36 lift turbofans developing 7,165 lb thrust.
SPEED (MAX): 723 miles-per-hour (1,164 kilometers-per-hour; 629 knots)
RANGE: 231 miles (371 kilometers; 200 nautical miles)
CEILING: 39,370 feet (12,000 meters; 7.46 miles)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 4,500 feet-per-minute (1,372 meters-per-minute)

Up to 4,400 lb of externally-mounted ordnance across four underwing hardpoints with support for the following:

1 OR 2 x 23mm GSh-23L (GP-9) gunpod(s)
R-60 (AA-8 "Aphid") Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs)
Kh-23 (AS-7 "Kerry") Anti-Ship / Anti-Surface Missiles (ASMs).
2 x FAB-500 General Purpose Bombs
4 x FAM 250 General Purpose Bombs
2 x ZB-500 Incendiary Bombs
2 x RN-28 nuclear bombs
Jettisonable external fuel tanks
Graphical image of an aircraft machine gun pod
Graphical image of an air-to-air missile weapon
Graphical image of a short-range air-to-air missile
Graphical image of an air launched nuclear weapon
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Graphical image of an aircraft external fuel tank

Series Model Variants
• Yak-38 "Forger" - Series Model Designation
• Yak-36M - Prototype Model Designation
• Yak-38 "Forger-A" - Single-Seat Initial Production Model designed to provide Soviet carrier groups experience in operating VTOL craft.
• Yak-38M - "Improved Model" with more powerful powerplants.
• Yak-38UV "Forger-B" - Two-Seat Conversion Trainer with lengthened fuselage for second cockpit seating area.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Yakovlev Yak-38 (Forger) Carrier-Borne VSTOL Strike Fighter / Fleet Defense Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 2/21/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The Yakovlev Yak-38 (NATO codename of "Forger") became the first (and last) VSTOL (Vertical, Short Take-Off and Landing) service aircraft for the Soviet Union. The vehicle attempted to fulfill roughly the same role as the competing British Aerospace "Harrier" series but proved a more limiting design that prevented the aircraft from reaching a greater operational service career. 231 examples were built in all across a few notable marks including a two-seat trainer-minded form. The line was officially retired from service in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Empire (1947-1991) and its shipborne role was not taken over by another product.

While the British were busy developing their Harrier jump jet, the Soviets endeavored to bring about their own VTOL system. Yakovlev began work on such a form in the 1960s, producing the Yak-104. When this initiative was abandoned, a new project emerged that eventually became the Yak-36. The Yak-36 "Freehand" ended its days as a test article through four prototypes but proved instrumental in producing the Yak-38's prototype - the "Yak-36M".

The Yak-36M actually held little in common with the earlier Yak-36 and featured a slimmer fuselage with shorter wing mainplanes. A single vertical tail surface was retained and downward-canted horizontal planes added. A split-air intake was used to aspirate the engine installations. Primary propulsion for forward flight was handled by a dedicated turbojet engine of considerable output power while two smaller, lower-powered turbojet units were used for lift-thrust and fitted vertically in a housing aft of the cockpit. The cockpit seated one and this was itself placed aft of a short nosecone. Intended for Soviet Navy service aboard the Kiev-class aircraft carriers, the finalized version of this aircraft was given the usual carrier-friendly qualities such as folding wings and a reinforced undercarriage. The undercarriage was of a retractable, tricycle design arrangement.

First flight of the Yak-38 prototype was recorded during early 1971. Take off and landing procedures were made fully-automated to help take some responsibility off of the pilot. The ejection seat was integrated to the lift engines for, should they fail and the aircraft begin to roll, the pilot was ejected "safely" away from the doomed aircraft. The computer-controlled engine system was designed to provide the proper mix of thrust to each lift unit to ensure that the aircraft stay aloft by way of precise calculations. In the end, Short Take-Off and Landings became more commonplace to the aircraft as opposed to relying on true vertical take-off and landing actions. The lift jets behind the pilot's seat were exposed during vertical flight while the primary engine's exhaust ports (seated under the aft-section of the aircraft) swiveled down to balance out lift power.

Yakovlev Yak-38 (Forger) (Cont'd)

Carrier-Borne VSTOL Strike Fighter / Fleet Defense Aircraft

Yakovlev Yak-38 (Forger) (Cont'd)

Carrier-Borne VSTOL Strike Fighter / Fleet Defense Aircraft

Armament was variable but restricted to gunpods, rocket pods, bombs, and missiles (the Yak-38 carried no internal gun). Four hardpoints were seen, two under each wing.

Yak-36M, marking what was essentially a pre-series example, carried a lower-powered engine of 14,660lb thrust and differed slightly from the production-quality aircraft. This work then led to the Yak-38 (NATO: "Forger-A") which became the first service aircraft joining the Soviet Navy ranks during August of 1976. These carried a 16,250lb thrust engine and total production yielded 143 units.

To help train Soviet naval pilots in the intricacies of VSTOL flight, the Forger was evolved into a dedicated two-seat training form in the Yak-38U (NATO: "Forger-B"). The fuselage was lengthened to accept the second cockpit and this model entered service on November 15th, 1978 with 38 examples following in production.

After some time in service, the Yak-38 family was modernized to produce the Yak-38M "Forger-A" designation. A Tumansky R-28 V-300 (vectored-thrust) and Rybinsk RD-38 engine combination replaced the original pairing for forward propulsion / lift thrust respectively. The added power increased the design's Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) by over 2,000lb and this led to reinforced underwing hardpoints for greater carried war loads. The intake openings were revised for the new engine fit and the product came online in June 1985 and 50 examples followed.

There existed several unfulfilled Forger offshoots during its operational history as well: the Yak-36P was intended as a supersonic fighter and the Yak-38MP was to carry the advanced navigation and attack suite of the Mikoyan MiG-29 "Fulcrum" fighter series. The Yak-39 was projected as a multirole platform but joined the others in Soviet aviation history as abandoned projects.

The Yak-38 encountered only extremely limited combat exposure during the Soviet-Afghanistan War of the 1980s.Twelve sorties were made with no notable actions recorded. The Yak-38 series, as a whole, suffered from inherently limited operational ranges, limited performance, and a limited weapons-carrying capability to make it effective in any one role. Nevertheless, it still offered sound fleet defense service for its time on Soviet carriers as it could carry useful Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs).

With the Yak-38 line officially retired in 1991-1992, attempts to replace the series in the carrier-based VTOL role through the Tak-41 "Freestyle" and Yak-43 initiatives were unsuccessful - allowing the Yak-38 to keep its place in Soviet naval aviation history for the foreseeable future.


Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (723mph).

    Graph average of 562.5 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Yakovlev Yak-38 (Forger-A)'s operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
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Pie graph section
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Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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