Weapons trade booms as profits hit record $531bn in 2020

Swedish think tank says world’s 100 biggest arms firms were largely shielded from the effect of the pandemic.

Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft seen on the ground from the back
US firms continued to dominate the global arms trade, accounting for 54 percent of sales in 2020 [File: Axel Schmidt/Reuters]

Sales of weapons and military services by the world’s 100 biggest arms companies reached a record $531bn in 2020, an increase of 1.3 per cent in real terms compared with the previous year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The Swedish think tank said 2020 marked the sixth consecutive year of sales growth by the top 100 firms, and came even as the global economy shrank. Overall sales were 17 percent higher than in 2015 when it first included data on Chinese firms.

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

Firms in the United States continue to dominate the industry, with total sales of $285bn from 41 companies accounting for about 54 percent of all arms sales among the 100 biggest companies. The top five companies in the ranking since 2018 have all been based in the US, SIPRI said.

Arms sales from the top Chinese firms amounted to an estimated $66.8bn in 2020, 1.5 percent more than in 2019.

Chinese firms accounted for 13 percent of the Top 100 arms sales’ total, ahead of the United Kingdom, which had the third-largest share.

“In recent years, Chinese arms companies have benefited from the country’s military modernization programmes and focus on military-civil fusion,” said Nan Tian, SIPRI senior researcher. “They have become some of the most advanced military technology producers in the world.”

The 26 European arms companies in the Top 100 jointly accounted for 21 percent of total arms sales, or $109bn, the think tank said.

The seven UK companies recorded arms sales of $37.5bn in 2020, up by 6.2 percent compared with 2019. Arms sales by BAE Systems – the sole European firm in the top 10 – increased by 6.6 percent to $24bn.

Sales by French companies, meanwhile, declined by 7.7 percent amid a drop in deliveries of Rafale fighter aircraft by Dassault, according to the think tank.

Weapons manufacturer Thales also saw sales drop 5.8 percent, which it blamed on pandemic-induced disruptions. Other companies also reported supply chain disruptions and delayed deliveries.

Russian arms sales, meanwhile, dropped for the third year in a row, SIPRI said.

Total sales of the nine Russian companies ranked in the Top 100 decreased from $28.2bn in 2019 to $26.4bn in 2020, with Russian firms accounting for 5 percent of Top 100 arms sales’ total.

Other countries with weapons firms in the Top 100 included Israel, Japan, India and South Korea. Sales at the four South Korean firms grew 4.6 percent from 2019 to $6.5bn, the think tank said

Source: Al Jazeera