Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colo. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
COVID hardly killed weapons biz: top companies see $513 billion in sales

Brand new report shows industry giants shielded by government demand for the goods and services of war.

Major U.S. arms companies accounted for no less than 54 percent of all weapons sales of the world’s 100 biggest arms suppliers in 2020, according to a new report, the latest in an annual series published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Despite pressure on many countries to divert already-strained budgets to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the subsequent global recession, sales of arms and military services by the 100 biggest companies increased by 1.3 percent compared to 2019 and totaled $531 billion dollars, according to the report.

The report noted that the new total — an increase of 17 percent over 2015 sales — marked the sixth year in a row of growth in arms sales. 2015 was the first year in which Chinese companies were included in what SIPRI refers to as the “Top 100.”

“The industry giants were largely shielded by sustained government demand for military goods and services,” according to Alexandra Marksteiner, 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 (economic) impact of the Covid-19 crisis.”

As in the recent past, U.S. companies dominated the top ranks. Lockheed Martin Corp. ranked number one, followed by Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grunmman Corp, and General Dynamics Corp. Together, those five top companies accounted for more than $180 billion in sales during 2020, or about one third of all sales by the biggest 100 companies.

Thirty-six other U.S. companies included on the list added another $100 billion in sales, bringing the total U.S. share to $285 billion, a 1.9 percent increase over 2019’s total.

The five Chinese companies that were included in the Top 100 came to $66.8 billion in 2020, or 13 percent of the global total. That marked an increase of 1.5 percent over 2019, according to the report.

“In recent years, Chinese arms companies have benefited from the country’s military modernization programs and focus on military–civil fusion,” said Dr Nan Tian, SIPRI Senior Researcher. “They have become some of the most advanced military technology producers in the world.” NORINCO, said SIPRI, co-developed the BeiDou military–civil navigation satellite system, “deepening its involvement in emerging technologies.”

Led by British companies that together sold $37.5 billion in 2020, 26 European arms companies that made the list accounted for 21 percent of total arms sales, or $109 billion. That marked an increase of 6.2 percent over 2019. Britain’s BAE Systems, which ranked sixth overall behind the big five U.S. companies, accounted for $24 billion, or nearly two thirds of the Europe’s share.

While French company arms sales actually fell by 7.7 percent compared to 2019, sales by the four German in the Top 100 increased by 1.3 percent over the year, reaching nearly $9 billion, or 1.7 percent of total sales.

Russian companies, on the other hand suffered some of the sharpest drops in sales, in part due to delays in delivery schedules caused in major part by the pandemic. 

Of the weapons firms based outside the United States, China, Europe and Russia, the three Israeli companies that made the list performed the best with $10.4 billion in sales, or two percent of the total.

Israel was followed by the five listed Japanese companies that together sold $9.9 billion worth of military goods and services and by the four listed South Korean firms whose combined sales came to $6.5 billion dollars.

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