Global weapons sales up; US leads market

The global arms industry continues to grow with total sales up 4.6% last year, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released Monday.

The top 100 weapons companies sold $420 billion in arms and military services in 2018, and the top five companies are all from the United States, said SIPRI in a statement.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics made $148 billion in sales, equivalent to 35% of the total. Overall, U.S. companies account for 59% of total sales.

Global arms sales by companies listed in SIPRI’s top 100 have grown by 47% since 2002, when the SIPRI database was started. It does not include Chinese arms companies due to a lack of reliable data.

Sales by Russian companies remained stable year-on-year, with $36.2 billion total sales or 8.6% of the global total. The country’s largest arms producer — Almaz-Antey — recorded growth of 18%.

“This increase was due not only to strong domestic demand, but also to continued growth in sales to other countries, particularly of the S-400 air defense system,” said Alexandra Kuimova, Researcher for SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

Britain remains the biggest producer of weapons in Europe, but sales by British companies dropped 4.8% to $35.1 billion.

France is the second-largest producer in Europe, with $23.2 billion in sales. Overall growth was driven by a sharp increase in sales at Dassault Aviation Groupe, which jumped 30% for the year to $2.9 billion. Sales by German arms producers fell by 3.8% to $8.4 billion.

The U.S. weapons industry saw significant consolidation in 2018 as companies look to benefit from President Donald Trump’s desire to overhaul the military.

“U.S. companies are preparing for the new arms modernization program that was announced in 2017 by President Trump,” said Aude Fleurant, Director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, in a statement.

“Large U.S. companies are merging to be able to produce the new generation of weapon systems and therefore be in a better position to win contracts from the U.S. Government.”

Fleurant told CNN that the program encompasses major new weapons platforms, such as aircraft carriers, as well as new technologies such as artificial intelligence and hypersonic vehicles.

Fleurant emphasized that there is still a chance the program doesn’t go ahead in its proposed form, but if it does it will take decades to develop and test new weaponry.

That said, U.S. domination of the global arms trade looks set to continue, she added. “They’ve left everyone else in the dust,” said Fleurant.

China is a notable absentee from the database despite the fact that Beijing is an important military actor.

“They tend to be very secretive about these things,” said Fleurant, explaining that the Chinese firms’ share of the global arms trade is currently “very small.”

This is because the “development of their arms industry was slow” and China “came late to the international arms market,” added Fleurant.

However, China will continue to develop export markets, according to Fleurant, particularly those looking for cheaper weapons than those offered by other sellers, or those to whom other nations might be wary of selling.