The Yakovlev Yak-61 is a modern Soviet medium-sized, medium-to-long-range carrier-based fighter with S/VTOL capability (it can take-off and land either vertically - i.e. VTOL - or conventionally in very short spans, STOL). As originally designed, it is an all-weather interceptor and air-superiority fighter to protect Soviet Navy (VMF) fleets from enemy aircraft and missiles at all ranges. In this capacity, it has a large degree of mission / design overlap with the USSR's most advanced fighter, the MiG-85, and is older as well as generally inferior. The Latter, however, is for the most part unsuited tp carrier-borne service due to its design characteristics (immense size and weight, complexity, etc); thus, only the VMF's largest carriers operate the MiG-85, and only in small numbers alongside a larger complement of Yak-61s. The current interation of the Yak-61, as an air-to-air combat platform is the Yak-61SM2, while the mission capabilities of the aircraft have since expanded through the introduction of the Yak-61KM - a strike-oriented version that also shares the base-line version's air-superiority capability. Conversion between the two variants involves only minor alterations and can be conducted onboard most Soviet carriers at sea, although it is not practical to do this on short notice.

The Yak-61 represents the Yakovlev Design Bureau's break back into the realm of fighter design, being the first such aircraft envisioned by the firm to be put into general production since the problematic Yak-38 of the 1970s - also a Carrier-based VTOL aircraft, although in this case primarily a strike fighter (proposed air-to-air-capable versions never having seen fruition). As such, it is regarded somewhat scornfully by many in the Soviet military aerospace engineering community, which is thoroughly dominated by Sukhoi (Su-) and Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG-).

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