One Nation Had Secret Nuclear Bomber Program

Luckily for the Swedes, Uranium-containing shale is abundant in Sweden.

After the Second World wᴀʀ, Sweden initiated a clandestine nuclear program — and had plans for a supersonic nuclear ʙoмʙᴇʀ.

Aтoмs for Peace

After World wᴀʀ II, the Soviet specter lay heavily across Europe. Like other post-wᴀʀ countries, Sweden wanted to protect itself from a Soviet invasion — and decided to manufacture nuclear wᴇᴀᴘoɴs to ensure its security.

Initially, Sweden tried to get nuclear wᴇᴀᴘoɴs expertise from outside the country. The United States, as the world’s first nuclear power and a guarantor of European security, was a logical partner.

The Swedish National Defence Research Institute (FOA)

In the early days of the Cold wᴀʀ, the United States pursued a strategy of promoting nuclear power for energy production — President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” concept. Nuclear material and nuclear know-how would only be transferred to foreign governments on the condition that the nuclear research and development would only be for peaceful purposes, precluding wᴇᴀᴘoɴ research. Sweden declined.

Buying nuclear wᴇᴀᴘoɴs directly from the United States was also an unattractive option for Sweden most likely impossible.

Luckily for the Swedes, Uranium-containing shale is abundant in Sweden.

Boмʙs Away

By the mid-1960s, Sweden has enough fissile material to build a ʙoмʙ in six months. It just needed a platform to deliver nuclear payload — the Saab 36.

The Saab 36 was a twin-engine supersonic ʙoмʙer. It would have had delta wings, and fly in the Mach 2+ range. Flight ceiling was to be 18,000 meters or 60,000 feet.

Saab 36, Sweden’s Secret Nuclear Boмʙer Program:

Targets of value to Sweden were in the Baltic — the Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania are just across the Baltic Sea, and Poland and East Germany are also practically next door to Sweden. (Though the Cold wᴀʀ is over, the Baltic is still an area of concern for Sweden.)

The Saab 36 had to deal with a few design restrictions which would affect its payload.

Designers at Saab were concerned that the wᴇᴀᴘoɴs externally attached to the fuselage or wings would create drag, degrading the jet’s performance. The high Mach 2+ speed would also have generated a large amount of heat that could damage wᴇᴀᴘoɴs — or worse cause them to “cook-off” or accidentally explode.

Boмʙs would have to be stored internally in an enclosed wᴇᴀᴘoɴs bay, farther away from potentially dangerous high temperatures. Internal space would be at a premium, and there would only be space for a single 800 kilogram, or 1,800 pound, free-falling nuclear boмʙ, reducing the efficacy of the boмʙer, and limiting its use to a tactical wᴇᴀᴘoɴ delivery system rather than a strategic deterrent.

The Saab 36 got off the drawing board just as a simple wind tunnel mockup and the design was not finalized. Images online appear to show two different designs, one with a chin-mounted engine intake, and another with two jet engines integrated in the delta wing.


Though the ʙoмʙᴇʀ never entered serial production, work on the Saab 36 contributed in part to the development of the Saab 37, a strike fighter that was one of the first successful jets that incorporated the delta wing design.

The Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag, would renounce nuclear wᴇᴀᴘoɴs in 1968, and Sweden would abandon its nuclear ambitions in the early 1970s, shipping fissile material abroad. The Saab 36 would never fly.