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The A-36 Nuclear Bomber Would Have Terrified Russia

Saab A-36
Saab A-36. Image: Creative Commons.

Sweden is clearly no superpower, despite wanting to join the NATO alliance thanks to Russia’s savage attack and invasion of Ukraine. However, Stockholm has always feared Russian intentions and planned things like the A-36 bomber. Thankfully for Moscow, Sweden did not pursue this. Here is what a former U.S. Air Force officer and expert had to say on this Cold War project: Since the 12th century, there have been eleven wars fought between Russia and Sweden, and while the last was in the early 19th century, Stockholm still feared an invasion from the east during the Cold War. In an effort to maintain its policy of neutrality, Sweden sought to develop a rather well-stocked arsenal of domestically-produced military hardware.

From 1945 to 1972, the Scandinavian nation even ran a clandestine nuclear weapons program under the guise of civilian research at the Swedish National Defence Research Institute (FOA). At issue was how to deploy such a weapon if the need arose, and from 1952-57 the Swedish military even conducted a feasibility study to develop a delta-wing supersonic bomber that would have a nuclear strike capability.

Thus was born Projekt 1300, a bomber that would be able to carry a free-falling nuclear weapon weighing up to 800kg. Unlike American or Soviet bombers of the era, which needed to fly extreme distances, the Swedes opted for a smaller bomber that could be flown by a single pilot. The distance was considered less of an issue as the most likely adversary would be the Soviet Union, of course.

With a proposed range of around 250 miles (410 km), the bomber could reach targets in the Baltic States, which were under the control of the Soviet Union, and even the city of Leningrad (today’s St. Petersburg).

A-36 Fast and Rugged

The Saab A-36 may have been able to fly great distances, but it could reach targets quickly. Saab’s engineers actually studied numerous configurations while developing the bomber. This included swept wings as well as delta-wing designs, and in the end, it was determined that the delta wing would be most suitable, enabling the aircraft to reach speeds around Mach 2.

To achieve such high speeds, a number of different configurations were considered and a surviving wind tunnel test model included a twin-engine design with the engines mounted on the wings advanced to the next stage of development. As the project moved forward it was decided to utilize the British Bristol Olympus, which was the same type of engine used in the Avro Vulcan and the commercial Concorde SST.

The aircraft was also to be fitted with an afterburner and air intake.

The high speed of the Projekt was an issue, however. Saab’s engineers expressed concerns that the airframe would experience significant aerodynamic heating, and that the high heat could even damage the nuclear weapons, possibly even detonating a bomb prematurely!

To address those issues, the engineers determined that the payload could be carried within an internal weapons bay. It also addressed another issue, namely of drag, which impacted the aircraft’s performance. There was a tradeoff, however. Carrying the weapon internally meant the payload would be limited, and in addition, the internal space for fuel, avionics, and other systems was impacted.

The other notable Swedish design trait of the bomber was that it would be able to operate from dispersed airfields, which was a key component of the nation’s military doctrine. The concern was that in the event of war that major airfields and bases would be hit early. Exactly how designers meant to address the issues isn’t entirely clear, but the bomber was meant to be as hearty as the Swedish people!

The A-36 Never Flew

The ominously-named Projekt 1300 was abruptly canceled in 1957 before any prototype aircraft were even built. There have been online references to the Saab A36 “Vargen” (Wolf) but it is also unclear if the proposed aircraft had ever received such a designation. When Sweden also canceled its nuclear weapons program in the 1960s, any need for such a bomber was permanently grounded.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

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.