Tracking new business

Saab’s Surface Radar Solutions unit manufactures mobile surface radar systems. It has 450 employees, mainly in Gothenburg, Sweden, but also in Halden in Norway and in Syracuse, located in the US state of New York.


The unit’s flagship Giraffe system is a strong brand in the radar world, having existed as a concept since the 1970s. The system was named after its distinctive appearance, with a long slender mast (that can be quickly raised and lowered) topped by a rotating radar antenna.

Thanks to continuous product development, Giraffe can be adapted to new requirements; for example, the latest versions can now be used to track and warn of incoming fire from artillery and rockets. The system has been used operationally by a number of customers in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has saved lives.

“Personnel there are exposed to attack from relatively primitive weapons that are, for example, fired from a small flatbed truck or from a simple support on the ground,” says Head of Surface Radar Systems M&S Kenth Börjesson.

“Of course it’s very difficult to predict such an attack, but with the help of our Giraffe equipment you get an advance warning of 25–30 seconds when S the projectile is on its way. That’s enough time to set off a siren at the impact site, so that personnel are able to throw themselves to the ground or take cover.”

An increased focus on software is a clear trend in product development. Head of Development Karin Adebahr says, “There has been a shift here as the software becomes increasingly important. It opens up new opportunities. If we sell a system that will be used for 25–30 years, it is obviously a great advantage for the customer if we can offer continuous updates of the software to ensure the system stays up-to-date throughout its service life.”

Saab Surface radar Solutions launched the new generation of the Giraffe family earlier in 2014. A new technology venture has made it possible to increase the system’s range and accuracy, as well as its capacity to detect small objects such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).Head of Business Unit Anders Linder explains: “We used to mainly look for aerial vehicles that were travelling fast and high. UAVs fly low and slow, and this places new demands on the systems, especially in terms of their ability to identify the objects and determine whether they are friend or foe.”

One expanding area of application for Saab’s surface radar system is civil security. Two examples of this came during President Barack Obama’s visit to Stockholm in September 2013 and the UK’s use of Giraffe for airspace surveillance during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

But Saab competes for orders with international companies such as Lockheed Martin, Thales and Selex, so it must make strategic choices. “We are not alone in the market, and we need to take a long-term view in order to be successful,” says Börjesson. “We also need to realise that we cannot operate in all countries – some 30 countries currently account for 90 percent of our sales.

Apart from the Scandinavian nations, our most important markets are the United Kingdom, South Korea, Thailand and the US. We develop markets based on analyses of the economic capacity available in each country, what their needs are and whether it is possible to do business with the country concerned. The analyses are done at both a macro and micro level in cooperation with our local market areas. This allows us to suggest solutions to satisfy our customers.”

Linder says that a unit reorganization introduced in September 2013 has brought great improvements. “Previously we had a central marketing department, which meant that development and production were quite detached from the commercial side of the business,” he says. “With our new way of working we are much more visible to customers.”

Of course, a key success factor is access to committed, competent personnel, most of whom have some form of engineering qualification. But there are some challenges in the supply of personnel. Adebahr says, “Many people who work here stay a long time, and this is obviously an advantage since it builds up a skills base. But at the same time we need to recruit more women, more people with foreign backgrounds and younger people with new skills.”