Extra sensor perception
The New Concepts and System study department within Saab’s radar operations does the research, modelling and prototyping of our new sensor capabilities. Head of the department, Ulrika Svahn, explains more about their work, and where this exciting technology is going next.
Saab is a world-leading provider of sensors. At this very moment, our sensor technology is being used by our customers in the air, on land and at sea to keep their borders and people safe from harm.
But the world of digital radar is here and with it comes a vast range of potential software solutions to complement, upgrade or even replace existing hardware for sensors and radars. So, for Saab to keep leading and succeeding, it must keep innovating. That’s where the New Concepts and System study department comes in.
Focusing on future threats
“We develop new concept capabilities for our future products and also capabilities that can improve existing products,” explains Ulrika Svahn, who leads the department, which is part of the Radar Solutions unit.
“We take the long view. We focus on things ten years ahead to research what new threats may arise. For example, ten years ago, we knew that drones and swarms of drones would be a factor but perhaps not quite the emerging threat to us that they are now. We need to know what the new threats to our radar systems will be and what new capabilities we’ll need to develop.”
The new department's research capability relies heavily on Saab’s close connections with world-class academic institutions in Europe and North America. Some of the system engineers split their time between working for Saab and research facilities, where they are sponsored by the company.
“Many at the department are experienced systems engineers, with academic backgrounds such as PhDs, adjunct professors and researchers, who work part time and in collaboration with universities in our operational countries, such as Chalmers University in Sweden, Aalto University in Finland, Imperial College in the UK and Purdue University in the US,” explains Ulrika.
"Being able to upgrade systems quickly and regularly will be a matter of survival.”
These talented minds need to be especially perceptive in monitoring the latest research, new technology and emerging trends. Then they get new ideas off the ground.
“Our role is to work in the lower technology readiness levels (TRLs),” says Ulrika, “where level one is basic research and level nine is a finished and verified product. We work in TRL levels one to five, from research through to the demonstration of prototype concepts. Other colleagues take over for the product development phases.”
Long term research can feel unnecessary compared with our urgent needs in our ongoing development projects. But by doing research and studies at an early stage, means minimizing risks. It becomes much more expensive to do changes in architecture and design once we have entered the development phase.
So having continuous research and studies is well invested money and important for Saab to be able to stay relevant and competitive.
Proud achievements and key trends
“I’m proud that this department has been able to combine theory and experiments in a very efficient way. That we are quick to take research results into theoretical studies and further into simulations and a number of demonstrators," says Ulrika.
The digital wave is progressing rapidly and software is playing an increasingly prominent role in digital radar development. With a ‘software brain’, digital radar is becoming scalable, lighter and modular. It will be more cost efficient to create and upgrade, making it flexible to adapt to customers’ needs and a profitable technology for Saab, though it does underline the need for strong cyber security.
“For example before the Giraffe 1X radar system was developed as a product, it started as a concept that arose from studies looking at system architecture and digital radar. An experimental digital radar system was built as a result of the theoretical studies and modules from the experimental system were later on re-used when designing Giraffe 1X."
“The studies and concepts underpin much of the Saab digital sensor core technology, which the next generation of our products will be based on.”
“With digital sensor core and digital radars we can build systems that have the ability to be easily upgraded by software. You can have imperfections in the hardware that can be compensated by the signal processing instead. Meaning that you won’t need to change the hardware – it’ll be enough to upgrade the software. Before long we’ll have faster upgrades of systems with new capabilities, a bit like we’re seeing with mobile phone apps,” says Ulrika.
“That’s a necessity because electronic warfare trends are becoming more advanced every day. There are new threats that we haven’t encountered before, such as drones or swarms of drones that behave just like flocks of birds to fool radar systems, or hypersonic missiles, and others that we don’t know about yet; so being able to upgrade systems quickly and regularly will be a matter of survival.”
The sensors and radars of the future are well on their way, and Ulrika Svahn and her team of innovators are already there to meet them, developing and adapting the technology to help keep Saab ahead of the pack.