”The challenges are enormous, and so are the opportunities”
Constantly challenging his own abilities is probably something David Dahlin inherited from his father who was a fighter pilot in the Swedish Air Force. Among other things, it has led him to take on what is perhaps the most challenging project manager position in Sweden: leading the development of support solutions in the Gripen E programme.
After working as an IT consultant for many years – both in his own company and as an employee – David decided to cross over to the other side of the fence.
“A consultant’s role is often exciting and stimulating, but it’s not without its drawbacks,” says David. “You’re constantly on the move as a consultant and just as you’ve started to learn the customer’s business, it’s time to move on to a new assignment. It means you seldom experience the results of your work.”
Time for something new
Towards the end of a large customer project, David was searching for new assignments and discovered that Saab was looking for a new senior project manager for a logistics project. The objective of the project was to develop solutions for maintenance of the Gripen E fighter aircraft, which is part of the delivery to the Swedish and Brazilian air forces.
“It sounded interesting to me and, after reading the ad, I realised that my experience and background matched the job description well, and that I could probably offer some good insights and approaches.”
After taking up the post, David quickly had to learn more about Saab, Gripen and how crucial support is for an aircraft – everything from spare parts, equipment, and facilities to pilot and technician training.
A system of systems
Gripen is more than just a highly sophisticated fighter aircraft. It is a fully integrated system of systems in which the aircraft is just one part. It includes an array of other systems, such as sensor, weapon, navigation, communication, and maintenance systems, to name a few.
“A major challenge in a project as comprehensive and complex as this is to get all the pieces of the puzzle in place in the right order and at the right time,” says David. “The work we do in logistics must keep pace with the development of the aircraft itself. That’s why we work very closely with those who build the aircraft.”
Gripen E is a modern and more developed version of the successful Gripen aircraft and is fully-equipped with everything you would expect from one of the world’s most sophisticated multirole fighters. In September 2019, the flight test programme for the Brazilian Gripen E commenced in Sweden and the aircraft will then be transferred to Brazil for final testing.
Transfer of knowledge and technology
Brazilian technicians and engineers are involved in the development and production, which is part of the technology transfer programme that will enable Brazil to develop, produce and maintain supersonic aircraft. The assembly of 15 complete aircraft will commence in Brazil in 2021.
As the Senior Project Manager of Logistics, David Dahlin is one of the actors in this incredibly complex spider’s web. A lot of the work is taking place in Brazil right now just prior to flight testing and production in the country. This means that members of David’s team are continuously on location in Brazil to prepare Saab’s partner companies for the parts of the Gripen E programme for which they will be responsible.
“It involves finding the right venues, for example, and equipping them in a way that provides the partner companies with the right conditions to optimally fulfil their obligations. It also involves creating and implementing work processes that function locally, defining system needs for the short and long terms, training personnel, and a whole lot more,” David says.
As Senior Project Manager, David is required to lead, direct, understand, and keep track of the whole, and he is additionally responsible for reporting back to the management team and board. His workdays are jam-packed with meetings and discussions with employees and colleagues, and with the Brazilian customer and Brazilian partner companies, of course. David believes that the meetings drive the work forward:
“My leadership is about delegating, completing tasks together, and giving people opportunities to offer suggestions. My job is to have an overview, to guide the team so that everyone pulls in the same direction, and to provide the necessary support so that we can deliver what we have promised.”
“As engineers, we can sometimes get caught up in the details. It’s then my job to get the team to look up and dare to take the next step without having all the answers, and to have the courage to think in new lines and outside the box, beyond what we’re used to.”
Growing up with a father who had flown several of Saab’s aircraft, David was, of course, not entirely unfamiliar with Saab. To now play a key role in the development of a new generation of fighter aircraft for a new generation of fighter pilots, is therefore particularly gratifying to David:
“Ultimately, what we accomplish every day as individual employees determines how well we will succeed in this incredibly complex project. The challenges are enormous, and so are the opportunities and I feel immense pride in being involved in this journey.”