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Meet the Saab S37 Viggen: The Fighter Jet Built for a War with Russia

Saab S37
An underside view of a Swedish Saab 37 Viggen fighter aircraft during Exercise BALTOPS '85.

Sure, NATO and the US developed what seems like countless fighter jets to ensure it could win a war against Russia. And yet, Sweden also prepared for such a conflict as well. Enter the S37 Viggen: Throughout the Cold War, the Scandinavian nation of Sweden maintained a strict policy of neutrality yet still prepared for a possible war with the Soviet Union.

To help facilitate the policy, Stockholm also adhered to a strict policy of indigenous design, development, and production of its frontline military equipment – notably aircraft. At the end of the 1960s, Sweden began to develop a new multirole fighter that was designed from the outset to be “battlefield friendly.” In this case, the aircraft needed to be able to take off from short runways and in a pinch use Sweden’s large networks of highways and remote roads. Moreover, the new fighter needed to be easy to refuel and rearm by conscript-level troops.

Enter the S37 Viggen

The result was the Saab S37 Viggen or “Thunderbolt,” a single-seat, single-engine fighter that featured a low double delta wing with two canards equipped with flaps. Designed to replace the aging Saab J35 Draken, the Viggen’s first flight took place in 1967 and it entered service with the Swedish Air Force in 1971. It was also the first canard-designed aircraft to be mass-produced, and at its introduction, it was the most advanced fighter jet in Europe and remained so until the Panavia Tornado entered service in 1981.

Several distinct variants of the Viggen were produced and these include the AJ37, which was designed to fulfill a strike fighter role; the aerial reconnaissance SF37; the SH37 maritime patrol version; a two-seat trainer SK37 version; and the JA37 all-weather fighter-interceptor. From 1970 to 1990 some 329 of the Viggens were produced, and Sweden was the only operator. In November 2006, the platform was retired.

S37 Viggen: A Number of Notable Firsts

The Viggen was powered by a Volvo RM 8 turbofan, which was, in essence, a license-built version of the Pratt & Whitney JT8D engine that was used to power commercial airliners in the 1960s. An afterburner was added to the S37, while the airframe also featured a thrust-reverser, which could be used during landings. It was the first aircraft to feature both an afterburner and thrust-reverser – a feature later seen in the Tornado and the Concorde commercial airliner. With its limited short take-off and landing (STOL) abilities, the Viggen could operate from airstrips that were around 500 meters.

The aircraft had a maximum speed of Mach 2.1 (1,385 miles per hour), a maximum range of 2,000 km with internal fuel, and a service ceiling of 18,000 meters. The RM 8 engine provided a rate of climb of 203 meters per second.

Designed as a single-seat aircraft, the Viggen featured advanced avionics, which included a central computer and heads-up display to replace a human navigator. This included the CK 37 (centralkalylator 37), the world’s first airborne computer to utilize integrated circuits.

The fighter was a true warbird, and was armed with a 30mm Oerlikon KCA cannon, and was also fitted with six underwing/under-fuselage hardpoints, which could be used to carry air-to-air and air-to-surface ordnance. Typical weapons loaded include AIM-9 Sidewinders, AIM-120 AMRAAM and RB71 Skyflash missiles.

While Stockholm originally planned to produce 800 of the Viggen, the order was cut short due to costs and the fact that the aircraft wasn’t offered for export, despite it being proposed as a replacement for NATO’s F-104 Starfighter. Saab had initially marketed the aircraft around the world, but Swedish export laws were an issue – while the United States also blocked a potential sale to India by not granting an export license for the engine, as it used American technology, thus giving Washington a say.

While the Viggen was never used in combat, this aircraft would have been like a thunderbolt from the heavens had any pilot of the Viggen taken to the skies in anger.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.



  1. Ray

    March 24, 2022 at 5:19 pm

    I enjoy reading these articles, but the pro-Trump, anti-Democrat nonsense is incredibly unnecessary and distracting. Let it go people.

  2. Quo Vadis

    March 24, 2022 at 7:24 pm

    Me thinks Viggens were among the coolest-looking fighters ever built. Wonder what Sweden did with them following their retirement; were they scrapped/destroyed or mothballed for potential future use?

    If mothballed, perhaps the Viggens could be resurrected (even with limited hours remaining on their airframes or engines) as one-way attack drones or radar decoys.

    • Fredrik

      April 21, 2022 at 4:46 pm

      I did my military service in the air force in 1990. Most of them are scrapped. A few airframes for display and 1 or 2 flying specimens used at airshoes is what’s left.

  3. Peter

    March 24, 2022 at 8:28 pm

    Quo Vadis: All Viggens was scrapped, expect from a few that are in museum’s today, and many that crashed. They had a major problem with cracks in the bearing wingbeams for the last 15 years or so in service, wich caused a lots of fatal crashes, especially in extremely low altitude (treetop height, yes, they often landed with parts of trees hanging from the undercarrige, just as the 32 Lansen. Seen that myself more then once.) and in high speed. Those that was lost was of the version AJ (strike/fighter). Our pilots flew them hard and fast, considered the best air force in the world in flying low and fast for decades and still beeing one of the best air forces in that. After the discovery of the cracked wingbeams, all aircrafts was scanned and all beams was replaced.
    Greetings from an ex member of the Swedish Air Force.

  4. Alancleveland

    March 24, 2022 at 8:31 pm

    I agree with Quo Vadis, one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed, and lethal. Surely a match for anything that Russia could throw at it

  5. Tony Barnes

    March 25, 2022 at 1:57 am

    Coming out right in the nic of about timing.NO MORE STEEL CURTAIN !!

  6. Per Sjofors

    March 25, 2022 at 12:06 pm

    Viggen was the only aircraft that reliably got (a friendly) missile lock on the SR71 as it flew over the Baltic on the way to and from overflying USSR.

  7. Nick

    March 25, 2022 at 1:25 pm

    That is one Bad Ass looking fighter! Don’t want war. Viet Nam was enough for us older vets but sure would like to see this bad boy in action.
    Way to go Sweden.

  8. craig aarseth

    March 25, 2022 at 5:06 pm

    Isn’tthe Viggen replaced with the Grippen?

  9. Jack Lyndhurst

    March 25, 2022 at 7:36 pm

    Craig Aarseth: It’s Gripen (just one “P” letter).

  10. Jack Lyndhurst

    March 25, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    To the editor: The AMRAAM missiles eere introduced in 1992, so the Viggen was unable to carry and launch them by chronological and technological reasons. Aside from Sidewinders and Skyflash AAM, the Viggen was also capable (at least theoretically) to fire the AIM-7 Sparrow (the base model which inspired the more advanced Skyflash made in UK).

  11. Mike11C

    March 26, 2022 at 12:06 am

    Wow, the Saab Viggen was in my deck of aircraft identification cards back in the ’80s. Is that really the best they have? They might have an advantage over a MiG-21 but, a MiG-29 would dominate it.

  12. Rahul Iyer

    March 26, 2022 at 12:38 am

    Too bad the remains of the fleet are not airworthy today. I am sure that they would be welcomed by the Ukrainians who would have put them to good use.

  13. Homer Sipsome

    March 26, 2022 at 3:15 am

    To Ray: no whining allowed considering the print, social, and television media are all predominantly Lefty controlled. Conservatives are constantly barraged with media neglect, biased protection of DodderingJoe and his son, Blow. At least we agree on these highly enjoyable articles.

  14. Salvador Valle

    March 27, 2022 at 5:13 pm

    Actualmente Ucrania está destruida ! No tiene aviación ! Te das cuenta ? Además está gobernado por un payaso y una pandilla de Neo nazis !.

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