Following our recent article on the Aircraft Illustrated photo-tour to Sweden, Leonard van den Broek takes a closer look at the last remaining Viggen unit and its future. Photos by Lucien Blok and Leonard van den Broek, Four Aces Aviation Photography
Viggens and Gripens over the North Pole
Luleå-Kallax Airbase is Sweden's northernmost located airbase, some 70 miles (100 kilometres) south of the Arctic Circle. Although Luleå-Kallax is located below the Arctic Circle, weather conditions can still become quite harsh in winter - on an average winter day in December or January, midday temperatures at Luleå-Kallax rise to 'only' about minus 15 degrees Celsius. Further north, in Swedish Lapland, temperatures can drop below minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter! Besides being Sweden's most northerly airbase, Luleå-Kallax also hosts Sweden's last Viggen squadron, the resident F21 wing, which consists of two squadrons - 'Urban Rot', operating a mix of Viggen types and 'Urban Blå', operating the Gripen. 'Urban Rot', or 'Red U', is the Swedish way of designating 'Number 1 Squadron, 21st Wing' - red is the colour referring to the first squadron of a wing and the letter U is the 21st letter in the alphabet. And indeed, the colour blue refers to a wing's second squadron.
Currently, F21 (and at the same time, the whole Swedish Air Force) still has three Viggen variants on strength. First, the Sk37E two-seat electronic warfare variant is a relatively new version of the Viggen - between 1998 and 2000, ten Sk37 trainer aircraft were converted to 'Stör Viggen' (Jammer Viggen), replacing the venerable J32E Lansen in the EW role.
Secondly, the AJSF37 is the upgraded version of the original SF37 Recce Viggen. Its camera nose houses seven cameras, including an infra-red line scanner and two SKA-31 600mm high altitude cameras. It is claimed that these high altitude cameras give better results than some of the new digital sensors in use by various European air forces - there certainly must be some truth in this, as in the 2003 NATO Recce Meet, the Viggens achieved a second place - after the venerable Swiss Mirage IIIRSs!
Last is the AJSH37 is the upgraded version of the SH37 anti-shipping version - after the upgrade to AJSH standard, its main task became strike and radar reconnaissance.
The end is near
For the Viggen, the end is rapidly approaching. In June 2004, the JA37DI Fighter Viggen made its last flight with F21's Number 2 Squadron. The three remaining Viggen variants will fly on until December 2005, but during the last few months of 2005 flying activities will significantly decrease as more and more maintenance personnel will transfer to work on the Gripen.
Because of budget reductions, even the Electronic Viggens are being forced into retirement, instead of soldiering on for a few more years like the J32E Lansen did some ten years ago. As a result of the Viggen's complete retirement, after 2005 the Swedish 'Flygvapnet' (air force) will no longer have any dedicated reconnaissance or electronic warfare aircraft. However, eventually the Gripen will have a reconnaissance and electronic warfare capability available - the JAS39 is already capable of performing 'electronic recce', using its radar, and delivery is expected of a reconnaissance pod for the Gripen in 2006.
Within a few years, the Gripen will also be equipped with an electronic warfare pod which could make a 'Jammer Gripen' even more powerful than the Sk37E. Captain Tobhias Wikstrom, Viggen pilot with F21, explains: "The Stör Viggen can only perform passive electronic warfare as it cannot carry any form of offensive counter measures as HARM or ALARM missiles. The Gripen can carry such armament, so in the future it can provide true 'suppression of enemy air defence' (SEAD). In 2004 and 2005, we participated in the ELITE electronic warfare exercises in Germany. With the Viggen we could only provide EW support, supporting the German Tornado aircraft for example."
The Gripen arrived in Northern Sweden some five years ago, when Urban Blå started its conversion from Fighter Viggen to Gripen. In 2000, a first group of four pilots received their conversion training on the Gripen with F10 wing. The following pilots converted from JA37DI Viggen to JAS39 Gripen with F21 itself. Currently about half of the JAS39 missions flown with F21 are type conversion training missions, the other half being tactical missions, with the emphasis on ground attack and recce.
Conversion from Fighter Viggen to Gripen was not very difficult, at least not in some aspects. Lt Kaarle, JAS39 pilot with Urban Blå, explains: "Many of the onboard electronics on the JAS39A are the same as on the JA37DI. In fact, many of the multicolour displays on the JAS39C have been 'tried out' in the JA37DI. The great advantage of the Gripen is that it's much more agile in air combat. In a 1v1 or a 2v2 combat, the Gripen is superior to the Viggen. The Gripen compares to the Viggen, like a Formula 1 race car to an old Volvo."
SWAFRAP JAS 39
In recent years, Sweden's defence force has focussed more on international participation. Besides taking part in the 'Partnership for Peace' programme, the Swedish air force has its SWAFRAP JAS 39 team and it also participates regularly in international exercises.
The 'Swedish Air Force Rapid Reaction Unit JAS 39' is a specific unit, part of F17 Wing. It can be internationally deployed within thirty days, usually for UN, OSCE or EU purposes. Deployments often take place in cooperation with other international forces such as NATO, so taking part in large international exercises is very useful for the SWAFRAP pilots. For example, to the 'Joint Winter 2004' and 'Battle Griffin 2005' live exercises in Norway, the Flygvapnet sent its SWAFRAP JAS 39. Though officially part of F17 at Ronneby, eight pilots of F21 also took part in SWAFRAP. Because of its international task, F17 has also been the first wing to upgrade to the JAS39C, the 'export version' of the Gripen.