Saab is hoping that its Rigs head-up-display will gain interest from the U.S. Army as the company pushes to boost sales in the U.S.

Though the U.S. defense market is under pressure from budget cuts, the company still sees opportunity here, says John Belanger, head of communications for the Swedish company’s North America operation. “U.S. defense is still roughly 50% of the total global budget,” he says. About 80% of Saab’s business is exported from Sweden.

The Rigs head-up display (HUD) was originally developed for civil use in helicopters and business jets, but company officials see an opportunity to draw interest from the Army because of its suitability in degraded visual environments such as dust, fog and weather. The Army has struggled with brownout conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its special operators often fly in degraded visual environments or at night.

The Army Night Vision and Electronic Systems Directorate purchased two prototypes for integration and experimentation on the Black Hawk helicopter, the first-ever sale of Rigs, says Wes Walters, executive vice president of marketing for Saab in the U.S. Company officials declined to disclose the deal’s price.

However, the company hopes to eventually get an opportunity to outfit the Army’s Chinook and Black Hawk fleets with the HUD. The most likely entry into the Army market would be to get an order to outfit special operations helicopters.

Saab is teamed with BAE on the product. Saab provides the display unit, which is compact and weighs about 12 lb., according to Henrik Naslund, vice president of sales for electronic defense and avionics. BAE provides the visual symbology on the unit. Though company officials say they don’t see a direct competitor for small, lightweight HUDs, they do say they face competition from visor-mounted or projected systems. “What we have done is make the HUD smaller in size, more lightweight and cost efficient,” Naslund says. The display unit can also be customized based on the demands of the host platform’s cockpit configuration.

Saab first displayed an early prototype of the Rigs unit at the 2008 National Business Aviation Association show, and a flightworthy unit was on display at the BAE booth at last week’s annual Association of the U.S. Army show here.

Naslund says Rigs is now flightworthy, but still requires certification. Units are also flying in Sweden for trials.

Company officials say Rigs is currently in competitions around the globe, but they declined to identify them.