News2019.12.22 12:00

Creating environmentally-friendly Swedish fighter jet – interview

A smart watch on the wrist, a smartphone in the pocket, a smart hoover, a smart TV at home – these objects have become part of our everyday lives. But how do you create a smart fighter jet?

Association Lyderė has invited the head of technology at Sweden’s Saab Aeronautics, Lisa Abom, to Lithuania who sat down for a chat with She works on Saab’s programme for JAS 39 Gripen, a single-engine multirole fighter aircraft loaded with tech.

As Europe is upping defence spending, Sweden is one of the few countries in the Baltic Sea region to develop a fighter jet programme. Theirs, however, aims to balance the very Swedish qualities of environmental sustainability with designing a high-tech fighting platform.

Is it important for Saab to look at sustainability?

Yes [...] if we don’t work with sustainability, we’re not considered a modern company [and] we will have difficulties with recruitment.

To work with sustainability is not to make our products easier to sell. All the nations that are buying our products are getting more and more aware of [environmental issues, including] the security of supply.

If fossil fuels [become] more and more limited, then you have to have [options for alternative fuels] to be able to fly.

We need to find areas where we need to find a different [approach]. I think if you want to fly with a fighter and you need to have a jet engine, then [biofuels] is one way to go.

I think if you want to fly with a fighter and you need to have a jet engine, then [biofuels] is one way to go.

Your aircraft will be in service for 50 years or so and you have to see into the future, correct?

The aircraft that we’re now developing will be in service for 40 years. Traditionally, innovation in defence industry has been driven from the inside. But now [since] a lot of innovation is happening in the commercial or civilian world, we as a company have to understand what innovation is relevant to us, and we need to pick up what happens in the civilian world and bring it to us.

I have to be focused on both the innovation that happens inside our company, but also the innovation ecosystem around the world.

We’re out looking in science parks, startup arenas, attending different meetings. We go fairly often to matchmaking events with industries and startups.

What are the most important innovations?

One really important area for us is secure communication. We consider that the one who has most information has the advantage. If you fly with Gripen aircraft, you fly in combination with friends, maybe four planes together, always in communication and sharing data. [Saab] has to make sure the communication is not interrupted by anyone else, or listened to by anyone else.

What is your opinion of 5G and Huawei?

Huawei is a fantastic company with lots of brilliant engineers who brought the technology forward. But on the other hand, [when] you start to look at our line of business, then [...] you have to make sure you are not in any risk of being influenced by anyone else, [or have] malware, bad components put into your technology.

How do you feel working for a military company?

We have a vision in our company that every human has the right to feel safe, it’s a human right to feel safe. Working at a company like this is to allow people to have a safe country and to protect your own borders.

Should countries increase spending on defence?

It’s up to politicians to decide [...] But what has been clear in Europe is that there has been a fairly long period [of time] when spending on military has been dropping [...] and now it’s turning around.

Does Sweden have plans to increase defence spending?

I think it’s the same trend as in all the nations in Europe [...] there is a discussion to increase the spending. From Sweden’s perspective, it’s very clear that [...] we need to rebuild, to some extent, the Swedish defence more closely to where we were before. Because there has been a period of 10 to 15 years when it has been cut too much.

How do you see the future of air transportation? And electrification?

Electrification of aviation, I think, is a tricky issue. You have difficulties finding high enough energy densities in batteries, [which means] you will need to have fairly heavy batteries and systems around them, so it diminishes the number of people you can carry.

So maybe batteries are not the final solution, but there will be for sure a lot of electrification as supporting [elements], for example, taxying in the airport. You might use hybrid aircrafts, not pure electric ones, [or a] mixture between [different types of] fuels. Replacing fossil fuels with biofuels will also be necessary.

Companies are already investing [in that]. Saab has not taken a step to replace the propulsion [...] but for the jet fighter, electrification means actually storing and using [electricity] for all the equipment we have on board, but maybe not for the propulsion of a jet fighter.

Are you working with universities?

Yes, a lot. In Sweden [...] the industry, the government, and the universites are linked together very closely. If we look at the innovation ecosystem in Sweden, all those resources are combined very strongly. For example, when our government or the funding agency propose a call [...] industries meet with startups and universities to figure out together the best way to push things forward in a combined way. We [in the industry] don't have that much money [in Sweden], but put together, these groups have a fairly good amount.

Israel, for example, is a leader in military technology, and startup ecosystem is the best in the world. How about Sweden?

They are outstanding in a sense, but Sweden and Finland and a few others countries are very close runners-up. [Israel spends] 5 or 6 percent on defence, [while] Sweden is at 1.5 percent. Sweden needs to use resources in a smart way.

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme

Newest, Most read