Resurgent interest in Saab Grintek Defence naval sensors

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The war in Ukraine as well as consistent marketing efforts are seeing surging interest in naval sensor products at Saab Grintek Defence, which has just launched a new laser warning receiver.

Gavin Copeland, Business Development Executive: Naval EW at Saab Grintek Defence (SGD) told defenceWeb that the naval side of the business has been growing very strongly over the last few years, partly as a result of intense marketing efforts, and partly as a result of the war in Ukraine, which has generated “a significant increase in queries and RFPs.” Until the Ukraine conflict there was a need for new naval EW systems, but an unwillingness to spend money, Copeland said, but following Russia’s invasion, heightened demand is being seen across Saab’s air, land and sea products.

SGD has naval customers all over the world, including in Latin America, the Asia-Pacific, NATO, and North Africa. Four NATO countries, including Finland, use surface and subsurface products. “We’ve had some pretty good successes,” Copeland said, “and have a very good pipeline based on the work we’ve done”. A lot of business comes from word of mouth, with satisfied customers sharing their experiences with others. New Zealand is one of SGD’s naval users and the company hopes that it will spread across the channel to Australia.

SGD has built its naval business tremendously over the last quarter of a century, and for a small company of 25 people working on the naval side in Cape Town, “it’s a fairly good achievement, especially being a South African company. All our products are designed and produced in South Africa,” Copeland said, and are as ITAR-free as possible. Being ITAR-free and based in South Africa also means SGD can operate across the whole world, and selling defensive rather than offensive systems makes exports easier.

One of SGD’s key naval products is its Naval Laser Warning System (NLWS), which can be either a standalone system or fully integrated into a vessel’s combat system. It includes a laser waring system for surface vessels and a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) blue-green laser sensor for sub-surface applications. Sensors are placed around a vessel to ensure adequate coverage, with the number of sensors determined by the size of the vessel. The system, which interfaces with the vessel’s combat management system and electronic support measures (ESM), can provide the bearing, laser classification and identification information required to deploy the necessary countermeasures.

The NLWS features the NLWS 310 laser warning system, which in LWS 310 guise is also used in Saab’s IDAS defensive aids suite for aircraft, and operates across the .5-1.7 nm wavelength to provide threat classification and direction of arrival for laser rangefinders, designators and missile guidance lasers. The LWS series has gone through several versions, namely Mk I, II, and III, with a new high accuracy sensor launched at this week’s IDEX exhibition.

The new LWS 700 allows for the automated detection, classification, and identification of laser-based weapons. Under development for the last three-and-a-half years, it is capable of classifying and identifying laser threats such as target designators or laser rangefinders. With a 1° bearing and elevation accuracy, the sensor is able to support countermeasures, specifically the deployment of hard-kill counter fires. This is a much-improved version of the LWS 310 and offers a bearing accuracy of 7.5°.

A North American based platform OEM (original equipment manufacturer) has already acquired several units.

Copeland emphasised that the older laser warning sensors will not necessarily be redundant, as they will be more cost effective and fit into a specific market segment.

SGD’s NLWS is in service with five nations(55 systems), including with the United Arab Emirates Navy (Baynunah class corvettes), German Navy, and South African Navy. For German frigates, Saab’s radar ESM and laser warning systems are used in combination with Rheinmetall’s Multi Ammunition Softkill System (MASS) decoy system, which guards against both radar and laser-guided threats.

SGD’s other flagship naval product is its naval radar warning/electronic support measures (ESM) system, which has been integrated onto Greek, Portuguese, and South Korean submarines, amongst others – fifteen solutions are in service with three NATO navies. This forms part of the company’s electronic support measures (ESM) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) solutions for surface vessels and submarines, providing rapid detection, classification and identification of emissions. The ESM and ELINT range comprises the SME-50 ESM receiver, SME-150 ESM system with ELINT functionality, and SME-250 ESM receiver with digital ELINT receiver – the latter covers the .5-18 GHz range while the SME-50 and SME-150 cover the 2-18 GHz range. The SME designation is used for surface vessels and UME for subsurface vessels.

These systems can be integrated with the NLWS, MASS or other decoy systems, active ECM systems, and Saab CRS-8000 communications ESM system (Saab Sensor Systems Germany offers the CRS series of naval communications intelligence [COMINT] and communications ESM [C-ESM] solutions).

SGD’s maritime business evolved from its involvement in the South African Navy’s submarine projects, with the company providing electronic warfare solutions for the submarines as well as frigates. “The submarine contract put us on the map today in terms of a radar/ESM perspective. At the time, there were very few companies that made submarine electronic warfare systems, especially for direction finding etc.” Copeland explained.

Almost all product development is internally funded – “gone are the days where we can rely on Armscor and Institute for Maritime Technology funding. The last time we got R&D funding was in the 2000s,” he told defenceWeb.

SGD’s naval products are somewhat unique in that they are used in air, land and sea applications as they share common building blocks, although the naval business is smaller than the airborne side. Saab Grintek Defence has for many years manufactured laser warning and missile approach warning sensors, with previous generations being the LWS-310 and MAW 300 respectively. The company recently launched its next generation MAW 400 and LWS-330 for airborne platforms, now in production, with a European customer the first to take these new products.

In addition, Saab Grintek Defence is producing a LEDS 50 MK 4 sensor, which is a 1-degree sensor for land applications. (Land Electronic Defence Systems, or LEDS, is an integrated, modular, active protection system consisting of laser warning sensors, an active defence controller, human-machine-interface and an effector control segment that can launch smoke or cue jammers).

Saab’s laser and missile approach warning systems form part of its integrated defensive aids suite (IDAS) for helicopters, transport aircraft and combat aircraft. IDAS warns against radar, laser and infrared guided threats and automatically deploys appropriate countermeasures such as chaff and flares. IDAS is operational on 30+ aircraft types in more than 15 countries.