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Interview with Dan Jangblad

EBJ: “Saab is the only company worldwide with an exclusive contract to develop a new fighter plane. Why is that?”

Dan Jangblad: “Most warplanes are developed by consortia comprising several companies. The development of the Eurofighter Typhoon, for example, required the cooperation of several European countries. By contrast, the Saab Gripen fighter is entirely Swedish. We can draw on the necessary experience and expertise from within the company to complete such an ambitious undertaking. Export sales to international customers in South Africa, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Switzerland are ample proof of the quality of the fighter. It is a highly versatile aircraft which is used by a number of national airforces besides the Swedish Air Force.”

EBJ: “As of 2012 over 240 Gripens had been built or ordered. Why is it so successful?”

Dan Jangblad: “The Gripen is a lightweight, single engine, multirole fighter. Like the Eurofighter, it has a delta wing and canard configuration with relaxed stability design and fly-by-wire technology for enhanced manoeverability. It has a top speed of Mach 2 and is capable of in-flight refuelling to extend its range. With a price tag of between 40 and 60 million EUR each, the Gripen is also extremely cost effective. It was developed at the behest of the Swedish government to replace the Saab 35 Draken and 37 Viggen in the Swedish Air Force. Development work started in 1979, and the first plane was delivered in 1993. Many of its design capabilities are a direct result of Sweden’s Cold War defence strategy against a possible Russian invasion. The Gripen was designed with the ability to take off from snow-covered landing strips just 500 m in length and requires only a short, ten-minute turnaround before taking off again. Another major advantage of the aircraft is its low maintenance cost and maintenance-friendly layout.”

“Cost pressure is the driving force behind R&D efforts in the military sector”

EBJ: “What new refinements will the next generation Gripen offer?”

Dan Jangblad: “The new Gripen is designed to be even more costeffective in recognition of the budget constraints faced by many national governments. We have also doubled its range, installed the latest generation radar equipment and enhanced its tactical performance. We already have orders for the new Gripen from Sweden and Switzerland. Furthermore, we are in contention to win orders from a number of other countries.”

EBJ: “The Gripen is not Saab’s only product. In what other areas are you active?”

Dan Jangblad: “Historically we have always focused on aeronautics, but today the scope of our activities is much wider. The company was founded in 1937 as Swedish Aeroplane AB as a result of an act of parliament. We have been making aircraft since the 1930s. The jet predecessors of the Gripen were the Tunnan, the Lansen, the Draken and the Viggen. However, we have sought to diversify our business throughout our history. The automotive arm was launched in the 1940s, and in the 1950s we were involved in computer development through Datasaab. In 2000 we acquired Celsius, the only other major defence company in Sweden, and in 2006 we took over the radar business unit of Ericsson. In 2010 we restructured our 15 business units into five business areas: Aeronautics, Dynamics, Electronic Defence Systems, Security and Defence Solutions, and Support and Services. Across these five business units, we offer a wide range of defence-related products including ground combat weapons, missile systems, torpedoes, unmanned underwater vehicles, remotely operated vehicles, airborne, ground-based and naval radar, airborne early warning systems, and training and simulation systems. We have also expanded internationally and now have operations in South Africa, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and the UK. We have a total workforce of 14,000 people, of whom 3,000 are employed in our international subsidiaries. Exports now account for 70% of turnover, which reached 2.5 billion EUR in 2012.”

EBJ: “How do you rank in comparison with international competitors?”

Dan Jangblad: “Amongst the big players in the industry, we are one of the smallest, although the breadth of our activities is comparable. As well as defence, we also look for civilian applications for our technologies. For example, we have become one of the major players in traffic management systems. We are also suppliers to many of our competitors such as Boeing and Airbus.”

EBJ: “What do you think will be the growth areas of the future. What innovations can we expect in the coming years?”

Dan Jangblad: “In terms of military operations, unmanned vehicles and technology will become increasingly important. Drone attacks have come under fire recently, but there are many reasons for their use, not least the fact that they keep military personnel out of the danger zone. Reducing the number of personnel needed to operate a system or making it completely unmanned also helps reduce costs. Targeting technology is another cutting-edge area. We are currently developing a new generation of targeting systems which will offer a new level of precision in the identification and acquisition of targets. Cost pressures are the major driving force behind research and development work in this sector. Most European countries have pared their military staffing to the bone and must rely on improved technology to allow them to rein costs in still further. We are investing heavily in the next generation of products to ensure that we have one of the most up-to-date portfolios in the market and that our order books are filled for the next ten years. As we have moved increasingly onto the global stage, we have built up an infrastructure with a local presence in the markets we are trying to sell into.”

EBJ: “What do you think are the reasons behind Saab AB’s success?”

Dan Jangblad: “Governments come to us because our solutions are competitive and state of the art. Sometimes it is an advantage coming from a small country with no international political ambition. We are reliable. We deliver what we promise on time and to the specifications agreed. We have adopted environmental, social and ethical policies that make us an attractive employer for the talented young people coming into the workforce today. They are the ones who will secure our position in the future.”

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