Global arms sales top $360bn as US and China dominate

Weapons sales increased by more than eight per cent in 2019

<p>Military vehicles take part in a military parade at Tiananmen Square to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in October 2019</p>

Military vehicles take part in a military parade at Tiananmen Square to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in October 2019

Dominated by America and China, the global arms industry recorded a nearly nine per cent jump in sales in 2019 from the previous year, according to a study released Monday.  

Based on the most recent publicly available data about sales of arms and military services, the 28-page report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), Mapping the International Presence of the World’s Largest Arms Companies, provides a partial picture of the growing magnitude and internationalisation of the military industry.

According to the report, the world’s 25 largest arms manufacturers reported $361bn (£269bn) in sales in 2019, an increase of 8.5 per cent from the previous year.  

American companies such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, continue to dominate the arms manufacturing and services industry, with 12 of the world’s top 25 firms headquartered in the United States.  

But five Chinese companies made it onto the list, and researchers say they lack enough data to include four other large firms based in China.  

“We know they are there and the report likely underplays China’s role,” Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, director of Sipri’s Arms and Military Expenditure programme and the lead author of the report, said in an interview. “China’s not accelerating, but it’s getting bigger. But that’s in line with the Chinese defence budget which has been growing, and Chinese defence companies are following the trend.”

Two UK firms, BAE Systems and Rolls Royce, reported nearly $27bn (£20bn) in sales. For the first time, a Middle East company, Edge, from the United Arab Emirates, an amalgam of numerous smaller firms that recently merged, made it into the top 25 with $4.75bn (£3.4bn) in 2019 arms sales.  

The figures combine both arms exports and sales to the firms’ own governments. But researchers say what’s most striking is the increasing globalisation of industries, with firms spreading their tentacles across the planet via subsidiaries and manufacturing partnerships. Firms like France’s Thales, Italy’s Leonardo, and the pan-European Airbus boast dozens of locally incorporated branches across the world. Saudi Arabia alone hosts offices for two dozen international arms firms. 

“Today the arms industry is really global,” said Ms Béraud-Sudreau. “The biggest firms are in the US and Europe, but they have a presence everywhere.”

France’s Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the Rafale fighter jets that Paris has been aggressively marketing to developing countries, experienced by far the biggest year-to-year jump in arms sales, more than doubling from $2.81bn (£1.5bn) in 2018 to $5.76 (£4.2bn) in 2019.  

Meanwhile, Russian weapons sales slumped, with both Almaz-Antey and United Shipbuilding suffering slight decreases in sales revenue.  

A US MH-60 Seahawk helicopter flies over Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell, File)

Researchers say they have yet to obtain data for 2020, which could show a worldwide slump in arms sales because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent global  economic slowdown, Firms won’t start publishing 2020 sales statistics until months into 2021.  

The report does not include growing surging arms firms in countries such as Turkey, whose arms industry has grown from $1bn (£745bn) in sales in 2002 to $11bn (£8.2bn) in 2020, Saudi Arabia, India, and Brazil that were too small to make the list. An earlier report by SIPRI which encompassed the world’s top 100 arms firms tabulated gross sales of $420bn (£313bn) in 2018.  

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