Worldwide military expenditure shrunk in 2013 for the second consecutive year, falling by 1.9% to $1.75 trillion. The 100 largest arms-producers sold a combined $402 billion worth of arms and military services in 2013, also down — for the third consecutive year.
However, not all countries are spending less. Military spending in North America and in Western and Central European countries has continued to decline, while other countries such as Brazil and Russia have increased their arms investments.
Despite the global drop, weapons producers generated massive profits from arms sales, and U.S. and European companies continued to dominate the top 10 global companies in terms of arms deals. Lockheed Martin was the global leader with $36 billion in arms sales in 2013, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
In fact, the top 10 companies tend to change very little. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Dr. Samuel Perlo-Freeman, senior researcher at the SIPRI arms and military expenditure program, explained that since the 2000s, the big North American and European defense corporations have secured their place among the top 10 arms dealers. Only the last two positions in the top 10 tend to see any major competition.
Yet, Russian companies have been growing rapidly, and if the trend continues, Perlo-Freeman said, Russian Almaz-Antey may breach the top 10 in the coming years. Further, although data on Chinese companies is currently unavailable, it is very likely several would be in the top 20 arms dealers.
U.S. companies still dominate the arms market by a large margin, with six among the top 10 arms sellers. In the top 100 arms-producing companies, 39 are based in the United States, and U.S. companies accounted for more than 58% of total arms sales among the top 100. U.S. company arms sales in the top 10 alone made up 35% of total arms sales among the top 100. By contrast, Western European companies, which make up the rest of the top 10 arms producers, accounted for just 28% of the total top 100 arms sales.
National governments, especially the U.S., are almost always the primary customers of these companies. Governments are often the only customers that can afford the extremely high costs of these products. An F-35 fighter jet purchased in 2018 from Lockheed Martin and delivered in 2020, for example, would cost roughly $100 million.
While cuts in U.S. military expenditure have created some uncertainty for U.S. arms market players, business is still very good in the country. According to Perlo-Freeman, several companies based in Europe, such as BEA and Finmeccanica, operate subsidiary holdings in the U.S. to access the U.S. market.
Even when a national government is not a customer of a domestic or international arms-producer, its leaders are involved in the transaction. “Top politicians, presidents, [and] prime ministers are very often directly involved in promoting major arms deals on behalf of their domestic industry,” Perlo-Freeman said. National leaders, who have an interest in who possesses some of the world’s most destructive instruments, often oversee the arms deals very closely. While these transactions are highly regulated, “for most countries, [politicians] are more interested in promoting the success of their industries,” Perlo-Freeman said.
To identify the 10 companies profiting most from war, 24/7 Wall St. examined the 10 companies with the most arms sales based on SIPRI’s “The SIPRI Top 100 Arms-Producing Companies, 2013.” Arms sales, including advisory, planes, vehicles, and weapons, were defined by sales to military customers as well as contracts to government militaries. We also considered the company’s 2013 total sales and profits, the total number of employees at the company, as well as nation-level military spending, all provided by SIPRI.
These are the companies profiting the most from war.
10. Thales > Arm sales 2013: $10.4 billion > Total sales 2013: $18.9 billion > 2013 profit: $800 million > 2013 employment: 65,190
Thales Group edged into the top 10 of international arms sales, moving ahead of L-3 Communications with 2013 arms sales of $10.4 billion, up from $8.9 billion in 2012. L-3’s arms sales fell from $10.84 billion in 2012 to $10.3 billion in 2013. Based in Paris, Thales has outlets in 56 countries with a total headcount of more than 65,000 employees. In addition to defense, Thales helped modernize the London Underground in 2014, increasing the capacity of the system’s Northern Line by 20%. More than a decade ago, Thales launched its inflight entertainment and connectivity unit now used by nearly 100 international airlines.
9. Finmeccanica > Arm sales 2013: $10.6 billion > Total sales 2013: $21.3 billion > 2013 profit: $100 million > 2013 employment: 63,840
Finmeccanica reported nearly $10.6 billion in arms sales in 2013, down considerably from the previous year, when the company sold $12.5 billion worth of military equipment. While arms sales comprised a majority of total revenue for six companies on this list, they comprised only half of the Finmeccanica’s overall 2013 sales of $21.3 billion. The Italian aerospace giant has been struggling in recent years, posting losses each year since 2011. The company is currently undergoing massive restructuring. Mauro Moretti, the conglomerate’s recently government-appointed CEO, said in an interview with the Financial Times earlier this year that he anticipates substantial job cuts, shrinking sales figures, and even a possible name change.
8. United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) > Arm sales 2013: $11.9 billion > Total sales 2013: $62.6 billion > 2013 profit: $5.7 billion > 2013 employment: 212,000
United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) is the lowest ranking U.S. supplier of the world’s top 10 arms selling companies. Based in Connecticut, UTC’s arms sales slipped from $12.1 billion in 2012 to $11.9 billion in 2013 even as its total sales rose from $57.7 billion in 2012 to more than $62.6 billion in 2013. The company’s Pratt & Whitney subsidiary, which produces and sells large commercial aircraft engines used in more than 25% of the world’s passenger fleet, recorded $14.5 billion in total net sales in 2014. Pratt & Whitney’s military engines are used by 29 armed forces worldwide. United Technologies’ Sikorsky helicopters are used by all five branches of the U.S. armed forces and Sikorsky products are used in more than 40 countries. Sikorsky generated $7.5 billion in net sales in 2014. Sikorsky manufactures military and commercial helicopters and supplies helicopter and aircraft services and parts. UTC is exploring spinning off Sikorsky to create a stand-alone public company.
7. Airbus Group > Arm sales 2013: $15.7 billion > Total sales 2013: $78.7 billion > 2013 profit: $2.0 billion > 2013 employment: 144,060
Airbus Group, formerly known as EADS, reported revenue of 59.3 billion euros in 2013, up from 56.5 billion euros in the previous year. Arms sales comprised just 20% of the company’s total sales of nearly $78.7 billion in 2013. Airbus Group is a major producer of commercial aircrafts, as well as helicopters and defense and space products. The company was recently awarded a contract with the South Korean government to supply several light helicopters. Airbus Group spans multiple European countries and overall employed 144,060 workers as of 2013. Several current and former executives of the group are mired in a legal dispute over insider trading.
6. General Dynamics (NYSE: GD) > Arm sales 2013: $18.7 billion > Total sales 2013: $31.2 billion > 2013 profit: $2.4 billion > 2013 employment: 96,000
General Dynamics’ (NYSE: GD) 2013 arms sales dropped by nearly 11% from 2012 to $18.7 billion. Nonetheless, the company turned a $332 million 2012 loss into a $2.4 billion profit in 2013. According to the aerospace and defense company, it provides a “broad range of products and services in business aviation; combat vehicles, weapons systems and munitions; communications and information technology systems and solutions; and shipbuilding.” GD’s aerospace division, among other things, designs and manufactures Gulfstream business-jet aircraft. The combat systems group designs and manufactures military vehicles — including battle tanks — and weapons systems and munitions. The information systems and technology unit, offers information technology and mobile communications services to the U.S. defense and intelligence communities.
Northrop Grumman is one of six companies based in the U.S. selling the most military equipment. Also, 82% of the company’s $24.7 billion total sales came from arms deals in 2013, one of the higher proportions. The U.S. government is Northrop Grumman’s primary customer for both arms and non-arms sales, accounting for $21.3 billion, or 86% of total 2013 sales. Earlier this year, Northrop Grumman was awarded a $113.3 million contract from the U.S. Navy. Despite mostly supplying the U.S. government, the company still has a substantial and growing international presence. The company recently identified at least four international markets it aims to target for global expansion: Europe, Australia, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.
Like other U.S. based defense companies, the vast majority of Raytheon’s business comes from the U.S. government. The company sold nearly $16.1 billion worth of arms to the U.S. government in 2014, or 70% of its total sales. This proportion has actually fallen each of last two years. Meanwhile, international sales accounted for 29% of Raytheon’s total 2014 sales, up from 27% in 2013. According to SIPRI, economic downturns and the resulting austerity measures, especially in the U.S., have prompted a number of companies to more aggressively seek international markets for military deals. These deals are subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations as well as other U.S. and foreign regulations.
3. BAE Systems > Arm sales 2013: $26.8 billion > Total sales 2013: $28.4 billion > 2013 profit: $300 billion > 2013 employment: 84,600
BAE Systems is one of the top 10 defense contractor suppliers to the U.S. with 31,500 employees in the U.S. in addition to 33,300 in the United Kingdom and another 19,800 in other parts of the globe including Saudi Arabia and Australia. About 36% of BAE’s sales came from its land and armaments business: development, ongoing support and maintenance of armored vehicles, artillery, naval guns, missile launchers and munitions. Total BAE sales grew 2% from 2012 to 2013 as the resumption of the company’s Typhoon combat aircraft deliveries more than made up for lower U.S. sales.
2. Boeing (NYSE: BA) > Arm sales 2013: $30.7 billion > Total sales 2013: $86.6 billion > 2013 profit: $4.6 billion > 2013 employment: 168,400
Based in Chicago, Boeing is the largest aerospace company in the world. It had sales of $86.6 billion in 2013, the third highest compared to the 100 companies reviewed by SIPRI. Unlike most U.S. arms dealers, only 35% of Boeing’s sales came from arms deals, one of the lowest such proportions. Boeing is known primarily for its airplanes, with more than 10,000 commercial jetliners in use worldwide, or approximately 48% of the global fleet, according to the company. The company is also a major provider of satellites and satellite components to NASA. Boeing is a major employer in a number of states. Worldwide, the company had a total 2013 headcount of 168,400 — also the fourth highest number of employees among the 100 largest arms dealers.
1. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) > Arm sales 2013: $35.5 billion > Total sales 2013: $45.5 billion > 2013 profit: $3.0 billion > 2013 employment: 115,000
Lockheed Martin’s 2013 arms sales totaled $35.5 billion, more than any other company in the world. The company posted total sales of $45.5 billion in 2013, 78% of which were arms sales. In its most recent financial report, Lockheed Martin reported a slight increase in both sales and U.S. government deals, which accounted for 79% of its $45.6 billion net sales in fiscal 2014. The F-35 stealth fighter is the company’s most profitable program, generating more than half of all sales from the company’s aeronautics division in 2014. Lockheed Martin’s advanced development program, known as Skunk Works, has recently announced a working concept for a compact fusion reactor. The department claims it may have a prototype of the elusive nuclear energy device within five years.