War profiteer of the month: SAAB

A fighter aircraft in the air during a display. The image is shot from below, and the aircraft has plumes of smoke trailing from the tip of each wing.
A SAAB Gripen aircraft

SAAB is a Swedish arms company, founded in 1937. The company builds a wide range of military aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and missiles. In 2017, SAAB was ranked 36th in SIPRI’s 100 largest arms companies. SAAB is Sweden’s largest arms company, and the only Swedish company to make SIPRI’s top 100. In 2017 the company made $2,670,000,000 worth of arms sales, accounting for 84% of the companies sales. The vast majority of SAAB’s manufacturing occurs in Sweden, but has also announced a site in the USA for “advanced manufacturing”. The company has recently announced orders of anti-tank weapons from Finland, naval radar from the USA, ammunition for the Carl-Gustaf anti-tank weapon from Australia, and “multispectral camouflage systems” from the Canadian army.

Gripen aircraft

SAAB manufacturers the Gripen aircraft system, a multirole fighter and reconnaissance aircraft flown by a number of air forces including Sweden, Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa, Thailand, and the United Kingdom (as a training aircraft), with a large number of other countries considering buying the aircraft, including a recent sale to Brazil.

The Gripen was originally introduced in 1996, and has since gone through a number of different developments and modifications. The most recent model, the Gripen E Series, has been compared as a much cheaper alternative to other modern aircraft, such as Lockheed Martin’s F35, and is able to share tasks such as electronic jamming and firing weapons between different planes networked together.


SAAB also manufacturers a wide range of different missiles, including anti-ship, and anti-tank missiles.

In 2018, SAAB used their presence at the Farnborough Airshow to announce exhibit the RBS15 Gungnir MKVI, an anti-ship missile for the first time. The RBS15 has been in production since the 1980s when the MKI was introduced. The MkIII has a 200km range, is available in sea, land, and air launched versions. Different versions of the RBS15 are being used by Algeria, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Thailand.

SAAB’s RBS 56B BILL 2 Anti-Tank weapon is a wire-guided (which means the missile is connected to the launch tube as it travels through the air. The original version of the missile was first developed in the 1980s, and has been used by Austria, Brazil, Latvia, Saudi Arabia, and Sweden


SAAB was embroiled in allegations of cuorruption surrounding the modernisation of the South African military in 1999. It was alleged that SAAB paid 30 million rand ($2.1 million) in bribes, under the cover of establishing an industrial school. In 2011, SAAB admitted to having paid 24m rand (£1.3m) to secure a South African contract for the Gripen fighter jets.

The order of Gripen aircraft to Brazil sparked controversy after prosecutors in Brazil accused former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his son of having interfered in the government’s decision-making in favour of SAAB, in exchange for $740,000 paid via a company called Marcondes & Mautoni, which helps companies do business in Brazil.

More recently, there have been concerns about the company selling a radar system to the United Arab Emirates, who are a member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels.

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