There are enough bullets produced every year to shoot each person on earth twice. There are a billion guns with which to shoot these bullets spread across every country in the world, (a quarter of which are naturally in the US). Over the last ten years the downward trend in the size of the arms trade which followed the end of the Cold War has been reversed due to increasing demand for weapons in China, India and the UAE.
This growing demand is happily met by the five permanent members of the UN security council, who supply 75% of the world’s weapons (1/3 by the US). The business of killing goes from strength to strength as the leaders of the US and UK fly around the world championing the weapons manufacturers of their respective companies.
Even with defence budget cuts and the withdrawal from the Middle East these companies are making huge sums of money, and competition at the top is often riddled with corruption and scandal as a result. Below is the list of the world’s most profitable arms companies, as compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
10. L-3 Communications, America : $10.84 billion
This American company produces everything from the EO-tech sights (pictured), to scanners, to simulators for everyone from NASA to the Department of Homeland Security. Founded in the late 90s and formed from various sections of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, L-3 did well for itself for over a decade before it began to suffer from the American defence budget cuts.
The company got into trouble after it was caught using “a highly sensitive government computer network to collect competitive business information for its own use”, the lesson being that it’s foolhardy to try and pull a fast one on the US intelligence services.
9. Finmeccanica, Italy: $12.53 billion
The Italian defence company Finmeccanica is one of only three non-American-based companies to make it on to the SIPRI’s list. Founded back at the end of the 1940s, the company operates in seven sectors: aeronautics, helicopters, space, electronics, defence systems, transportation and construction. This means that Finmeccanica makes everything from planes and trains to 76mm cannons for use on naval frigates. As is often the case with defence contractors and Italian companies, the company has recently been involved in a corruption scandal which involved 12 helicopters, the Indian government, and a series of large bribes.
8. United Technologies, America: $13.46 billion
United Technologies is the only company on this list to have increased its sales between 2011 and 2012, probably because military products constitute a mere 22% of its business. However, although the company is also involved in the elevators, escalators, and fuel cell worlds, it also produces the infamous Black Hawk helicopter which is used by the US, Turkish, Korean, and Columbian armed forces. In 2012 United Technologies was discovered to have sold military technology to the Chinese, and in doing so had violated the Arms Export Control Act, for which it was fined $75m.
7. EADS, Netherland: $15.4 billion
In January 2014 the European multinational EADS was renamed AirBus Group, and although armaments only account for 21% of their sales, the company is still included on this list because it took in well over $15 billion from its military aircraft, missiles, space rockets, military satellites and supporting technologies.
EADS has been subject to allegations of corruption and insider trading, with luxury cars allegedly being bought for Saudi officials, millions of pounds seeming to disappear into shady Cayman Island accounts, and an apparently fraudulent arms deal with South African officials estimated to be worth around $5bn. This is all pretty impressive coming from the company that probably built the last plane you flew on (last year Airbus sold 1,503 commercial jets valued at a total of $225 billion).
6. Northrop Grumman, America: $19.4 billion
There’s something iconic about Northrop Grumman’s B2-Spirit Bomber (pictured above), even to someone who doesn’t know the first thing about aircraft. It looks notably different from what we’re used to seeing in an aircraft; it seems impressive that it’s even capable of taking off, let alone having the capacity to carry 16 1000kg nuclear bombs.
This aircraft was built for penetrating the Soviet Union’s airspace undetected, and cost almost an average of $2.1bn to develop, engineer, test and train pilots for each plane. However, at the end of the Cold War, the need for this type of plane dropped just as they first took off, and although they saw action in Kosovo and Iraq, they were fortunately never used in a nuclear capacity.
Since the B2 Northrop Grumman has continued to produce aeronautical and radar products including the exciting sounding AN/APG-80 advanced agile beam fire control radar. As with almost every other company on this list there have been a number of scandals including one which saw Northrop Grumman being identified as the 62nd-largest corporate producer of air pollution in the United States.
5. General Dynamics, America: $20.94 billion
This Virginia based company can trace its history back to the Holland Torpedo Boat Company, which made American’s first submarine boat back in 1900. The modern business is split into four sections: Marine Systems, Combat Systems, Information Systems and Technology, and Aerospace.
The bizarrely basic home page declares itself to be a worldwide leader in producing and enhancing tracked and wheeled military vehicles, weapons systems and munitions for the U.S. military and its allies. General Dynamics is responsible to the infamous Abrams tank which is described as the only ‘combat vehicle that strikes fear into the hearts of it’s enemies more than any other…’
4. Raytheon, America : $22.5 billion
Raytheon, the world’s largest producer of guided missiles, has been known to court controversy. The controversies range from relatively dull contract disputes to a case wherein the company obtained classified information, illegally . Even for a company which has been operational since before WWII, (originally in the refrigeration industry) the level of high-profile controversy around the company is impressive.
The various names of the company’s missiles (Patriot, Tomahawk, and Javelin) are familiar among the masses in the gaming and action film worlds, but the good people at Raytheon also produced various terrifying weapons including a ray-gun which was tested out on Californian prisoners, and the controversial Rapid Information Overlay Technology (RIOT) system which harvests data from social media sites in order to track individuals.
3. BAE Systems, Britain : $26.85 billion
British Aerospace Marconi Electronic Systems is one of a few non-American companies on this list, and it’s a result of a 1999 £7.7bn merger of several predecessor companies which include the makers of the Harrier Jump Jet (the world’s first Vertical Take Off and Landing Aircraft), the comet (the world’s first commercial jet), and Concorde.
95% of the company is devoted to the production of arms, much of which is related to aerospace. The company is the producer of the Typhoon and Tornado Jets, which are used by the British RAF in their front-line defence of British airspace.
2. Boeing, America: $27.61 billion
In 2013, Boeing took $86.6bn in sales – around a third of which was arms sales. The sections primarily responsible for these arms sales is made up of the former “Military Aircraft and Missile Systems” and “Space and Communications” divisions. Despite its British origins the company has its headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, with bases in Washington and California.
The company makes use of its aerospace expertise in its production of bombers, fighter aircraft, and UAVs. One plane -which sounds like the brainchild of a Marvel comic writer – was named the B-17 Flying Fortress, which was deployed against the Nazis and lauded for its ability to continue flying and defending itself even when severely damaged.
1. Lockheed Martin, America: $36 billion
In 2012 Lockheed Martin made just under $3000m profit, the majority of which comes from the American government (in 2009 it received just over 7% of all of the funds from the Pentagon). The enormous company is based in Maryland, and employs 120,000 of the world’s brightest scientists, engineers, and lobbyists.
It’s responsible for the huge Hercules plane, the high altitude U2 spy-plane (one of which crashed during the Cold War), and the world’s most advanced tactical fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor. The company is also involved in the next generation quantum computing systems which are also being explored by Google and IBM.