Sabertooth Is the Saab That Can Stay Under Water for Over Half a Year

For a long time, the civilians of this world knew the name Saab for the cars it used to make. It was for a while a standalone company, then, in the 1990s, it climbed in bed with American behemoth GM. That would seal the Swedish company's fate, taking the car-making Saab out of the equation back in 2014.
Saab Sabertooth 6 photos
Photo: Saab
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Yet the moniker is still around, with Saab being a major player on the European defense industry scene. In the business of producing anything from surveillance equipment to weapons like the Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifle to full-blown fighter jets like the Gripen, the Swedish are almost always in the news because of them.

This week they managed to do that thanks to something called the Sabertooth. It's not something that can be driven on the road, or fired at the enemy, or flown. It's a piece of technology that was meant for use under water, and it's called Sabertooth.

Saab describes the vehicle as one meant to perform operations that have to do with underwater investigations, maintenance, and repairs. Unlike everything else the company has ever made, it's not pretentious in design, looking like a flat metal platform with no worthwhile shape. Yet it's very capable, and has been designed to live most of its life beneath the surface.

Sabertooth is 3.6 meters (12 feet) long, and just half a meter or so (1.6 feet) wide. It can come in either a single hull or double hull design, and when fully loaded with cameras, sonars, and an assortment of tools, it weighs up to 800 kg (1,763 pounds) in single guise, and up to 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds) in a double configuration.

That's quite heavy, if you think about it, and would require some effort and cost to be transported to where it's needed by means of a surface vessel, then dropped into the water to do its job. But the Sabertooth has been designed with a different means of deployment in mind: it can stay submerged for long stretches of time, close to where it needs to be, and ready to be deployed at a moment's notice.

Saab Sabertooth
Photo: Saab
That's possible thanks to a so-called docking unit. This needs to be installed near areas of interest, and once it's ready, the vehicle can autonomously make its way to it. The machine runs on batteries, with a capacity of 10 kWh or 30 kWh, depending on the submersible's versions, and the docking unit is where the Sabertooth can recharge itself as well. Needless to say, this is also the place where the sub is kept safe from underwater dangers.

Saab says the sub can stay submerged for over six months at a time, requiring no maintenance during this time.

When on active duty, the machine can dive to depths of up to 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) thanks to its robust construction. While doing so, it can carry with it a variety of tools, from winches and tethers to brushes and manipulator arms.

But how does one control the Sabertooth? There are several ways, actually, and the list starts with a fiber-optic tether. When using it like this, in manual mode, the operator can send instructions to the machine through the cable, and the sub reacts and does what it's told. If a tether is too cumbersome, operators can opt to control the Sabertooth wirelessly, by means of an optical through-water communication link.

But that is not something that other similar designs can't already do, so Saab had to come up with a feature that could make it stand out. And that feature is called in this case autonomous operation.

Saab Sabertooth
Photo: Saab
Because it is equipped with an inertial navigation system and a Doppler, the Sabertooth can find its way to its target, be it the docking unit or its place of work, with ease. Sonar and video cameras also play their part in the sub making its way safely under the surface. As it leaves the factory doors, it comes equipped with mission-planning software, but third-party solutions can be installed by whoever plans to use the thing.

The capabilities of the Sabertooth were already put to the test by Saab in NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), the same place where astronauts prepare for spacewalks and trips to other worlds.

Several companies are already using the tech, and another one joined the list this week. United Arab Emirates-based PXGEO just placed an order of over $57 million for a fleet of 20 Sabertooths - and that gives us a sense of how much a single unit costs, and that is around $2.85 million. It is the largest order for Sabertooths Saab received to date, with deliveries expected to be completed in 2025.

PXGEO will use the fleet as part of something called the MantaRay, a solution for offshore seismic data acquisition. The Sabertooth will not be directly involved in this operation, but will be used to deploy and recover equipment for ocean bottom surveys.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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