Although the J 35 Draken was not designed to be a dog-fighter, it proved to have a good quick-turn capability and was a capable fighter plane. It entered service with the Swedish Air Force in 1960. A total of 651 Saab Drakens were manufactured. Sweden's fleet of Drakens came in six different versions, and two other models of the Draken were offered for export. The early models were intended purely for air defense. The last model built was the J 35F, the final version to remain in Swedish service. These aircraft were retired in the 1990s and replaced by the Saab JAS 39 Gripen.
The J 35 Draken design underwent several upgrades. The last was the J 35J version, made in the late 1980s, although by then, the Draken had been almost replaced by the Saab 37 Viggen in the Swedish Air Force. The J 35J was a service-life extension program because the delivery of the new Saab JAS 39 Gripen was suffering delays. The extension program was intended to keep the Draken flying into the 2000s, but due to cutbacks and high maintenance costs, the Draken was eventually phased out of service. The Swedish Drakens were officially retired in December 1998, although the aircraft remained in limited numbers in both military and civilian roles. Its export customers included Denmark and Finland. In 1985, the Austrian Air Force purchased 24 J?35Ds reconditioned by Saab, re-designated the J 350.
All Drakens are interceptors with limited air-to-ground capability, with the sole exception of the Danish Drakens, which are strike aircraft capable of carrying AGM-12 Bullpup missiles, electronic countermeasures, and increased internal and external fuel storage. The Danish Drakens are so far the heaviest of the series to have flown. Danish J 35 aircraft were retired in 1993.
Finland updated its 35XS fleet with new avionics, cockpit displays, navigational/attack systems, and electronic countermeasures during the 1990s, but these were finally retired in 2000 to be replaced by F/A-18 Hornets.
Austria was the last country to keep the Draken in military service. The Austrian Air Force bought refurbished J 35Ds. This was the last Austrian Air Force fighter plane with internal cannons for their lone air-to-air armament because of the restriction in the Austrian State Treaty of 1955. This forbade their carrying air-to-air missiles. This restriction was dropped in 1993 because of violations from the nearby Yugoslavian air combat services. American AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles were purchased. These Drakens were retired in 2005, when they were replaced by former Swiss Air Force F-5 Tiger IIs, while waiting for new Eurofighters.
In the United States, the National Test Pilot School (NTPS) owns six Drakens that were formerly in Danish service; of these, two TF-35XD s and one RF-35XD are operational, based at the Mojave Spaceport.