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

Meet the Saab S37 Viggen: In the 1950s, the Cold War was in full swing. Although not a signatory of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at the time, Sweden was beefing up its military to protect against the Soviet threat. On October 25th, 1955, the S35 Draken took to the skies.

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By this time, however, the Swedish military was already planning its next generation of fighters; the results of this process would culminate in the S37 Viggen.

What goals did the Saab S37 Viggen fulfill? 

As with most other aircraft developed by the Swedish military, the Viggen had a diverse array of requirements the designers were expected to satisfy. Due to the overwhelming might of the Soviet military, Swedish planners adopted the Bas-60 system for its air force, planning to disperse the aircraft to multiple small bases to prevent the loss of the majority of them in a Soviet first strike.

In order to facilitate this requirement, the Viggen had to be short takeoff and landing (STOL) capable to deploy to small bases, bases with damaged runways, or even highways. 

Another major factor in the design was integration with the STRIL-60, Sweden’s upgraded air defense system which coupled early warning radar with ground interception to fight off an air attack.

The CK 37 computer, the first of its kind with integrated circuits to be incorporated into an aircraft, interfaced with the STRIL-60 as well as assisting with navigation and targeting. This, coupled with advanced avionics, and a HUD eliminated the need for a navigator, reducing weight and increasing maneuverability.

Why the S37 Was So Special

All of these factors came together to produce the Viggen, which entered service in June 1971. Its delta wings and canard design – horizontal elevons placed forward of the wings – gave it excellent speed, in excess of Mach 2 at altitude.

This made it the fastest European fighter for a decade until the introduction of the Tornado in 1981. Such speed helped the Viggen live up to its name: “Thunderbolt” for the lightning produced by Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.

It achieved this speed with the help of a powerful engine, the Volvo RM8. Although based on a commercial design by Rolls Royce in use on many airliners, the RM8 had an added afterburner giving the Viggen its blistering top speed.

More of the Airframe’s Armaments and Variants

Over the course of its life, the Swedish military developed several variants of the Saab S37, beyond the JA37 fighter/interceptor. These included the AJ37 – strike fighter, SH37 – maritime patrol/anti-ship, SF37 – reconnaissance, and the Sk37 – two-seat trainer.

While the reconnaissance and training variants did not carry much, if anything, by way of armaments, the other variants packed an impressive punch with anywhere between seven and nine hardpoints capable of carrying anti-ship, air-to-air, air-to-ground, cruise missiles, and even a gun pod.

Making its first UK Airshow appearance, this amazing Viggen is operated by the Swedish AF Heritage Flight in genuine F7 markings. Seen during its solo routine. c/n 37-098. 2013 Waddington Airshow. 6-7-2013

Saab S37

Saab S37. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Saab S37

Saab S37. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


Image of Saab S37 fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Saab S37

Saab S37. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Stockholm initially intended to develop around 800 S37 airframes, however, the high price tag of the jet cut the number significantly. Additionally, Sweden’s strict export laws made selling the jets challenging. Of the 329 total Viggens ever built, less than twenty of these formidable airframes remain today. The existing fleet of jets served the Flygvapnet until 2005, although none ever saw combat. 

Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.



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