Global arms sales shrug off COVID-19 pandemic

An Israeli F-35 lands during the bi-annual multi-national aerial exercise known as the Blue Flag, at Ovda airbase near Eilat, southern Israel, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. Israel's military is holding the largest ever air drill of its kind with participation from eight countries including the U.S., Britain, Germany, Italy, Greece, India and France in the two week-long drill. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
By Dénes Albert
4 Min Read

The top 100 companies in the arms industry sold weapons and military services for a total of $531 billion in 2020, an increase of 1.3 percent in real terms on the previous year, according to new data released earlier this month by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Arms sales last year in particular were up 17 percent from 2015 and recorded an increase for the sixth consecutive year.

U.S. companies continued to dominate the rankings, representing 41 of the 100 top firms for a combined total of $285 billion in arms sales — an increase of 1.9 percent compared to 2019. The turnover of U.S. companies reached 54 percent of the total turnover of the top 100, with the top five rankings continuing to be occupied by American firms since 2018.

“The industry giants were largely shielded by sustained government demand for military goods and services,” said Alexandra Marksteiner, a researcher with the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.

“In much of the world, military spending grew and some governments even accelerated payments to the arms industry in order to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 crisis,” he added.

China solid second

Chinese-based firms also saw a combined increase in arms sales, with the top five Chinese companies in 2020 totaling $66.8 billion in sales, up 1.5 percent on 2019.

Chinese companies accounted for 13 percent of the top 100 arms sales last year, sandwiching the Asian superpower between the United States in first and the United Kingdom in third.

In recent years, Chinese arms companies have benefited from the country’s military modernization programs and focused on military-civilian fusion. They are among the most advanced military technology manufacturers in the world, according to SIPRI. The Chinese state-owned defense corporation Norinco, for example, has jointly developed the BeiDou military-civilian navigation satellite system and deepened its involvement in emerging technologies.

Europe slips on poor French performance

Together, the 26 European arms companies in the Top 100 accounted for 21 percent of total arms sales, or $109 billion. The seven UK companies had arms sales of $37.5 billion in 2020, up 6.2 percent from 2019. BAE Systems — the only European company in the top 10 — saw its arms sales rise 6.6 percent to $24 billion.

The combined arms sales of the top six French companies fell 7.7 percent, a significant drop largely due to a sharp year-over-year decline in sales of Dassault-supplied Rafale fighter jets. However, Safran’s arms sales rose due to increased sales of targeting and navigation systems.

Four German companies are in the Top 100 and their arms sales reached $8.9 billion in 2020, an increase of 1.3 percent compared to 2019. German companies accounted for 1.7 percent of total arms sales on the Top 100 list. Rheinmetall, Germany’s largest arms manufacturer, managed to increase its arms sales by 5.2 percent. In contrast, shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp reported a decline of 3.7 percent.

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