The Journey to West Lafayette
The pursuit of excellence through technology, research and co-operation have been part of Saab’s growth strategy in new markets as the company seeks to expand beyond its traditional Swedish homeland.
Saab has established links with many different countries, working to better those societies through the transformative benefits of collaborative research, new national industrial facilities, and the creation of well paid jobs that make a difference to employees and their families.
Saab is no stranger to the United States; the name conjures up memories of the Swedish turbo-powered cars that built a loyal fan base over the decades. The Saab Group of today and the car company of the same name may share a distant industrial lineage, but the defense company has fair claim to be the starting point. The name Saab, is an acronym standing for the Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolaget or in English, the Swedish Aeroplane Company Limited, and was formed in 1937. The name directly reflects the company’s origin of building Sweden’s own fighters to defend the country, against the backdrop of Europe’s descent into World War II. That Swedish foresight has remained a trait over the decades leading to an industrial network of companies specializing in all the keystone technologies that a modern military demands. Coupled with political neutrality that continued during the Cold War, Sweden defense development was characterized by nimble but sophisticated use of technology that served to deter bigger neighbours and keep the Swedish nation safe in a tough neighborhood.
In time the world changed and Sweden did too, and with that came a round of industrial consolidation that saw one company subsume another, before itself merging or being taken over. The final result was that Saab came to represent the vast majority of those Swedish capabilities that encompassed fighters, submarines, missiles, radars, electronic warfare, the Carl-Gustaf recoiless rifle, and more.
The relentless pace of political change and the rise in complexity of technology and its application has meant that one country can no longer sustain a competitive industrial base. And so, like many other sectors that have grown by seeking new markets and expansion overseas, Saab too has sought new prospects, bringing with it the Swedish spirit of innovation and opportunity through partnership.
On the shores of America, those two complimentary strands of Saab’s approach have led the company to contracts with a variety of US customers in the military and civilian field. Sometimes an existing company was acquired for its talent and technical excellence, other times growth came from those timeless business traits of diligence and product excellence.
For example, leveraging Swedish investment, Saab brought the Sea Giraffe naval radar to the U.S. market with such success that it is now found on six different classes of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships. To ensure the sensitive nature of the radars is protected, Saab employs U.S. citizens to refine the technology that originated in Sweden, now with a uniquely American evolution. Every day, Saab’s U.S. employees ensure U.S. sailors deploy safely knowing Sea Giraffe is keeping watch over them and their surrounding environments.
And now it will be the aspiring pilots of the United States Air Force who will take to the skies in aircraft built by Americans, this time in West Lafayette in Indiana. On September 27, 2018, the U.S. Air Force chose the Boeing-Saab T-X as its new jet trainer. Having promised over a year before to build its share of the aircraft in America, the company is fulfilling its promise of U.S. jobs, new business prospects and economic benefits.
After a careful and considered process, Saab has chosen the city of West Lafayette as the location for investment in a new advanced manufacturing and production facility, a key part of the company’s strategic expansion in the North American market.
West Lafayette is also home to the world-renowned Purdue University, which presented a unique opportunity for partnership and collaboration beyond the initial aircraft project. Saab and Purdue will work together in furthering technology research in areas such as advanced and additive manufacturing, multi-function and cognitive sensing, autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence.
Around the globe, Saab supports similar partnerships in countries as diverse as Finland, Brazil, Australia and Singapore where the company’s global track record of investing and building up local capability, employment and research centers is proven and sustainable. That begs the question, “where next”? Given the near neighbor, Canada, shares many of the geographic and geo-military challenges as Sweden, perhaps a northern match between fellow Arctic countries could be on the cards. For now though, the good work continues with the announcement in West Lafayette and the excitement is building as Saab moves to deliver a new facility, new jobs and new research. Together with our partners, we will keep pushing back the boundaries of what is possible and making the world a safer place.