Breaking the thought barrier – challenging the unknown

What will happen in 15–20 years? How does Saab develop new technology – to stay a step ahead and avoid, tackle and protect our society against future threats? Today’s generation of modern product portfolios is built on long-term preparations made years ago.

Right now a generational shift is underway in AESA (active electronically steered array) radar. This is the product of long-term research and processes that sometimes take up to 20 years from idea to finished product. In other words, the foundation of what is being sold today was laid back in the ’90s. Radar and electronic self-protection systems are strategically important to Saab, and each year significant investments are made in research and development. The research has to be spread across a number of areas, from
hardware such as semiconductors and antennas to software such as signal processing algorithms and a decision-making support.

“When Saab looks at future needs and wants, we do it from various perspectives and types of information, including what our customers think and what the technology and its possibilities mean for the future,” says Fredrik Wising, PhD in nuclear plasma fusion and working with business development and strategy within business area Surveillance. “Before we worked almost exclusively on behalf of the Swedish defence, but as its spending was reduced we have been forced in a positive way to define the systems that customers need. This requires long-term relationships, collaborations and input from customers, defence academies and think tanks around the world. In combination with our own analyses, plans and scenarios, we now have the foundation to develop the next generation sensor concept.
Today research is being done in areas such as algorithms, software development and AI, where new, smarter systems can collect vast amounts of data, make more accurate analyses and draw conclusions that provide better decision-making support.”

“The old parabolic antennas could only see in one direction and had to be turned to pick up signals in other directions,” he continues. “The new generation of antennas can look in every direction at the same time, in real time. They are also multi-functional and adaptable and allow the customer to monitor the entire area and prioritise targets. In addition, they can be upgraded with new software in just a minute.”

Saab’s broad range of products under one roof creates synergies, reuse opportunities, higher efficiency, better performance and faster speed to market, a unique competitive advantage.

“Take, for example, our world-leading ability to produce exceptionally pure microwaves. This is critical in order to spot targets in complex environments, and we have been able to invest what we needed because it is so important to all our products. This is why our radar systems were able to warn of incoming terrorist rocket attacks in Afghanistan, saving the lives of a large number of soldiers.”

The competitiveness of the product portfolio is also exemplified by the fact that Saab was one of the first to introduce gallium nitride (GaN) in military radar and electronic self-protection systems, an area it has been researching since the late ’90s and has won a prestigious award for.

The technology offers longer reach and better robustness for fighter radar, airborne surveillance radar (GlobalEye) and the new surface radar family (GIRAFFE). It is also critical for the antennas on the advanced self-protection system in Gripen E.

“We still see strong demand for the updated versions of technology that was developed in the ’90s, and we have many years to come with the new generation of sensors,” says Fredrik Wising.
“At the same time, we are researching today what will come in 10 to 20 years.”

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