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Why the UK is one of Saab's strategic markets

More than a year has passed since Russia invaded Ukraine, and the war seems far from over. For the first time in decades, Europe is no longer taking democracy for granted, and countries heavily increase their investments in military and defence. Having been present in the UK for many years, Swedish defence and security company Saab plays an important role in the national defence industry, a role that could get even brighter and broader. Malin Svahn, Director Innovation Programmes Saab UK, discusses Saab’s UK growth, and explains why the UK is such an important market.

“Being a country with one of the five biggest defence budgets in the world, and being a major defence exporter, the UK is a crucial market for us. There are significant business opportunities for those with operations here and at the same time, a lot of support from the Government for both export sales and R&D investments” says Malin Svahn, Director Innovation Programmes Saab UK.

Present in the UK for many years, Saab continues to strengthen its presence. According to Malin, the UK market is not only advantageous due to its size, but also for the amount of support to be found as a foreign business.

“There are a lot of business opportunities in the UK. The UK’s domestic defence budget is large, and the country also has a very active defence export support operation. In other words, if you have business activities here, there is a very well-established system for Government support for selling out of the UK, which is something we are looking into harnessing in the long-term.”

Highlighting both local and national R&D investments, Malin believes that the priorities of the UK are similar to those of Saab. “Placing our operations in a country which is investing heavily in R&D is of high importance to us, be it directly through orders placed with industry and through the regulatory environment to encourage and reward businesses in turn. As a defence company, we are investing a lot in keeping our products at the forefront of technology, collaborating closely with academia, which makes the UK a great place for us to be.”

Defending democracy all around the world

Founded in Sweden in 1937, Saab has grown to become a global defence company. Most known for products such as Gripen, submarines and surface ships, Malin says that its business is much wider than many people might think.

“We have a wide range of products and services, apart from the well-known ones. For example, we are very proud of our remote towers that can be used for air traffic management in any type of airport and is used at London City Airport, and we are also the world leader in electric underwater robotics with a key facility located in Fareham, Hampshire”.

Saab’s customers are primarily foreign nations and their governments. Sweden is the single biggest market today, although, Malin says they keep building new collaborations and expanding operations on the international markets.

When comparing the business cultures in Sweden and the UK, Malin believes that connections are more important in the UK. She says it is key for any business entering the UK from abroad to look into the industry landscape, and then start building a network.

“From a business culture perspective, the relations are very important in the UK, regardless of which sector you operate in. It's very important to map out your business and to understand the different stakeholders. For instance, the supply chain in the UK, ranging from top tier suppliers to SMEs with bespoke technology, makes for a thriving defence and aerospace ecosystem. The UK is very keen to support SMEs, and they can be great allies both as suppliers and in developing your networks.”

She recommends contacting organisations such as the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), and Business Sweden, saying that Saab has received invaluable assistance through them.

“I would say a major tip to any foreign business wanting to come to the UK, would be to use those organisations, who work to support companies who want to get established here.”

Entering and expanding within the UK

Saab entered the UK market in the mid-1980s, first by opening a marketing and sales office. Ever since then the company’s relationship with the UK has grown stronger, and the market has grown in importance. In 2019, Saab defined the UK as one out of its four strategic markets, and deepened the ties even further.

“We’ve been present in the UK for a long time, continuously expanding over the years. A major milestone for us was when we decided to make the UK a strategic market, meaning that we put extra effort in expanding our business here, not only from a marketing and sales perspective, but also our operational footprint.”

Saab currently employs 300+people in the country, and plan to expand the workforce significantly.

“I would say our physical presence in the UK is very important. Employing people locally and thereby contributing to the UK prosperity is crucial to growing our business. This is why we decided to expand our operations here even further.”

With headquarters in London, Saab has operations all over the country, working with everything from R&D to production. As part of the national expansion, the company has initiated a detailed action plan, Malin explains.

“Already present in a lot of places across the UK, and we are actively pursuing further organic growth options as well as M&A activities. We have a technology centre in Farnborough, and our operations connected to the underwater robotics business in Fareham which we are expanding, as well as our public safety business in Hull which is also constantly growing.”

And despite unexpected events, such as Brexit, Saab isn’t planning to hit the brakes. “We are here to stay, and will continue to grow."


Key sectors and opportunities for Swedish business


Clean growth & Smart City technology


Life Sciences:
Healthtech & medtech


Tech: Fintech & games development


Advanced engineering:
Electric vehicles

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