Saab is to recruit a small team of engineers to staff a new design centre for its Sea Gripen concept in the UK, in an effort that could eventually lead to the construction of a flight demonstrator.

The Swedish company announced its plan following a 24 May meeting with Ministry of Defence officials in London, where it is also to open a new headquarters to accommodate the project team.

The move comes as Saab chief executive Håkan Buskhe has revealed a strategy to significantly expand the company's presence in the UK by pursuing fresh business opportunities. "The MoD is looking for competition," he said.

To open within the next few months following the recruitment of around 10 personnel, the design centre "will capitalise on the UK's maritime jet engineering expertise", Saab said. "Its first project will be to design the carrier-based version of the Gripen new-generation multi-role fighter aircraft based on studies completed by Saab in Sweden."

 Sea Gripen - Saab

Sea Gripen landing - Saab

Both images © Saab

A concept-design phase lasting roughly 12-18 months will follow, after which Saab could choose to prepare a flight demonstrator, most likely at its Linköping site in Sweden. It hopes to work in partnership with selected UK companies to advance the project, as the nation's industry already provides 28% of the content for the Gripen NG.

Saab has described its Sea Gripen as an "ideal replacement for existing fleets and new [aircraft] carrier nations", and named Brazil and India as possible future customers. The concept was first explored around five years ago, and sources have said that the aircraft would be suitable for use on vessels with a displacement as low as 25,000t. Deliveries could be made from 2018.

Saab has around 200 employees in the UK, but according to Buskhe, "there's no reason why we couldn't be 10 times as big here. We believe the UK is a good ground to make an expansion from. We believe we have a gap to fill, and that we can show that it's possible to acquire extremely fine products that are affordable.

Håkan Buskhe - Saab 
© Saab
Buskhe: Saab wants to tap UK's maritime jet engineering expertise

"When you have cuts it's time to look into your normal procurement processes and challenge patterns that were used in the past. We believe we have something to bring to the table."

Acquisitions could be one possible route to meeting the growth ambition, but Buskhe said that any such move "must keep to the core values of Saab: that we can increase the product performance and decrease cost". The company has a net cash position of around SKr4 billion ($631 million).

Source: Flight International