Arms production is big business, literally. The US and Russia are currently the world’s two biggest single arms producers, selling over $56 billion in weaponry to other countries in 2013 alone. This isn’t anything new as each country has been making a fortune from supplying the world with military weapons and hardware since the end of the Second World War. In fact, even before the Americans and Russians, there were the British, French and Germans, all supplying their ships, cannons and rifles to allies or whoever could produce enough money.
In December 2014, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released its comprehensive study of arms manufacturing and sales. In the report, SIPRI listed the top 100 arms producing companies in the world. Combined, they all came in at over $400 billion in sales. If you’re somewhat underwhelmed, keep in mind these values are just the base manufacturing costs of the arms and not necessarily what they end up getting sold for. Arms sales are, after all, a business and the companies making these weapons aren’t just going to sell them on to other countries (or their own governments) at cost.
The following looks at 20 of the largest arms-producing companies in the world based on arms sales at production costs. Unsurprisingly, you will find the list is dominated by one particular country – we won’t spoil it for you, though. You may be interested to see that many of these military companies also produce a lot of notable civilian equipment that we see and use every day. You’ll also notice that there are no Chinese manufacturers on the list. The people at SIPRI noted a lack of reliable information relating to Chinese arms sales so they were not included. In light of this, we have included one of China’s biggest arms producers as an ‘honorable mention’ as we are sure their arms sales would qualify them to be on this list.
21 Honorable Mention: Norinco (China): Unknown Military Sales
Due to a lack of information concerning arms sales figures, SIPRI figures often exclude arms producing companies from China. With one of the largest growing arms producing and export industries, China recently overtook France as the fourth biggest arms seller in the world. For this reason we decided it was appropriate to include at least a mention of one of China’s biggest arms producers, China North Industries Corporation (Norinco). With $62 billion in total sales, Norinco builds everything from civilian vehicles and industrial equipment to chemicals and oil field equipment. They also make a wide range of military hardware from small arms to main battle tanks. Much of their hardware is cloned from other designs and produced more cheaply making it attractive to potential buyers. An example of this is the new MBT-3000, a tank which incorporates Western and Russian design features at a fraction of the cost.
20 Textron (USA): $4.38 billion
Founded in 1923, this Rhode Island-based company is a conglomerate of companies making a wide range of products for civilian and military use. If you’ve ever gone golfing, there’s a good chance you drove around the course in a golf-cart made by Textron. Away from the links, they also make industrial equipment, helicopters, small planes and lawn tractors. In the military world, Textron is probably best known for its involvement in the information and surveillance sector. Here, the company has established itself with a series of surveillance and reconnaissance drones, such as the RQ-7, which have seen over 900,000 hours of flight time in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
19 DCNS (France): $4.46 billion
The history of this company goes all the way back to the 1600s when France undertook a campaign to create numerous naval dockyards in order to build and maintain a fleet. Over the centuries, the government formed the “Direction des Constructions Navales” which in 2003 became a state-owned company eventually known as DCNS. With the slogan “Sea the Future,” you’d expect this company to sell predominately naval weaponry – and you’d be right. In addition to developing renewable and nuclear energy, DCNS builds and sells a range of frigates, corvettes, submarines and torpedoes. Customers include Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, India, Singapore and Brazil.
18 Honeywell (USA) $4.87 billion
Based in New Jersey, this American company is a conglomerate which manufactures a wide range of civilian and military products. Most people are probably familiar with their thermostats, especially the round style which have become so iconic over the years. When it comes to machines and engines, Honeywell also manufactures Garrett turbochargers – a device which helps to boost engine power by providing more air for combustion. Militarily, Honeywell has been involved in avionics and missile development for several decades. Today, they build aircraft guidance systems and instruments. They also produce the vast majority of components which go into each nuclear weapon in the US inventory.
17 United Shipbuilding Corporation (Russia): $5.12 billion
Under a 2007 Presidential Decree signed by Vladimir Putin, the largest shipbuilding and maintenance facilities in Russia were merged into one massive state-owned company. This was done to streamline Russian shipbuilding while making it more efficient and competitive with other nations’ shipbuilding. On the civilian side, USC manufactures a range of cargo and research vessels, as well as oil research and drilling equipment. For military sales, the Russian company builds a line of diesel-electric and midget submarines meant for export. In terms of surface ships, there are a number of modern frigates and coastal patrol vessels offered with an array of missile and gun weapons systems.
16 Safran (France): $5.42 billion
Created in 2005, Safran is a French company which focuses on aircraft and rocket development. Most of its sales are in the civilian sector, but this Paris-based company does enjoy a healthy military sales record as well. Driving the military side of Safran are sales of motors and engines for rockets, drones, helicopters and aircraft. They also produce and sell aircraft landing gear, braking systems, wiring systems and hydraulic, electrical and mechanical equipment. Currently, they are probably best known for their guidance systems used on a range of military missiles and rockets. Like other companies, they have entered into the UAV market as the demand for drones continues to increase.
15 United Aircraft Corporation (Russia): $5.53 billion
Like the USC, the United Aircraft Corporation was created by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a way to streamline military and civilian aircraft production. The UAC also maintains a dual role of supplying the civilian and military market with products. As you’d expect, civilian sales include passenger and cargo aircraft, as well as specialized aircraft such as firefighting planes. For the military, UAC produces cargo, air superiority, ground attack, strike and training aircraft. Currently the most modern aircraft being developed by the company is the Sukhoi PAK FA, a stealth fighter which is reportedly set to enter Russian service in 2016 – after which it is slated for export.
14 Rolls-Royce (UK): $5.55 billion
Most people probable recognize this company thanks to their reputation for building some of the most expensive luxury cars in the world. In addition to cars, Rolls-Royce is also known today for manufacturing engines for airliners. Ever been seated on a plane and noticed the ‘RR’ badge on the engine nacelle? Given that the company’s engines are used on over 30 types of commercial aircraft, if you’ve ever flown there is a good chance the plane was powered by the UK company’s product. In military sales, Rolls-Royce is the second-largest provider of aircraft engines. In addition to powering helicopters and UAVs, Rolls-Royce also provides the technology that allows the F-35 fighter to perform Short Take Off and Vertical Landings (STOVL).
13 Huntington Ingalls (USA): $6.55 billion
When you design, build and maintain America’s fleet of aircraft carriers, chances are you are one of the biggest arms sellers in the world. Huntington Ingalls Industries was created in 2011 out of the Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding company. In addition to its monopoly on aircraft carriers, Huntington Ingalls is also one of only two companies which builds the United States’ nuclear submarines – including the new Virginia class. As the United States Navy looks to replace its older aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines, it’s a good bet this company will maintain, if not increase, its position on this list over the coming years. The fact that a $22+ billion order backlog exists only reinforces this further.
12 Almaz-Antey (Russia): $8.03 billion
Founded in 2002, Almaz-Antey is a Russian company which specializes in land and naval air defence weaponry. The company produces a range of air and ground surveillance radars and control systems for domestic and export use. The sting in these systems comes in the form of short, medium and long range missile systems which are reported to be very effective. In large part, thanks to demonstrations of airpower in Libya and Iraq, sales of Russian-made air defence systems have been strong as nervous nations look to protect themselves from any potentially devastating air attacks. Topping the list of potent export models is the S-300 system which has a maximum range of up to 250km and can reportedly even target slower moving ballistic missiles.
11 L-3 Communications (USA): $10.34 billion
As its name suggests, this American company is heavily involved in all things related to communications. Beyond that, L-3 has branched out, especially in the military market. The New York based company is probably best known for their role in military avionics. L-3 manufactures displays and software for aircraft and missiles, flight and engine instrument systems, cockpit displays and mobile video and data systems. For the boots on the ground, the company also developed infrared vision technology, laser systems and a range of weapons sights for the soldier’s personal weapon. They may not build aircraft carriers or tanks but this company provides numerous products and support for many other major American arms producers.
10 Thales (France): $10.37 billion
Thales is a multinational French company, based in Paris. Founded in 2011, the company is best known in the civilian market for providing aircraft avionics and radios. More than half of the company’s sales, however, come from military contracts. Here, Thales supplies everything from radar and fire control for ships to armored vehicles and UAVs. In addition to upgrading their own French ships, Thales is also contracted to supply the British Royal Navy with advanced radar and fire control for its new aircraft carriers. In the air, the company continues to develop and sell the Starstreak missile which, at Mach 3.5, is reported to be the fastest short-range anti-air missile in use. On land, the company continues to develop SWARM – a small, remote control armored vehicle which can operate a range of small weapons.
9 Finmeccanica (Italy): $10.56 billion
The only Italian entry on this list, Finmeccanica is one of the giants of world armaments sales. A conglomerate of companies, Finmeccanica produces an array of military hardware for armies, navies and air forces. In the air, you can find their radar, avionics and radios in a range of aircraft and UAVs. They also build AugustaWestland helicopters, including the Mangusta and a licensed version of the famous Apache. On land, the company supplies the Italian army with the modern Ariete battle tank. On the sea, Finmeccanica has developed and sold numerous anti-ship and anti-air missile systems as well as a range of naval artillery pieces which are used by many nations around the world.
8 United Technologies Corporation (USA): $11.9 billion
United Technologies Corporation, based in Hartford Connecticut, is another conglomerate which provides a large range of products for civilian and military use. As well as building aircraft and helicopters, UTC also makes elevators and escalators. In the military world, there are two major driving forces behind its sales figures. The first, Sikorsky, is one of the leaders in helicopter development and manufacturing. The best known helicopter from UTC is probably the UH-60 Black Hawk. The other driving force behind UTC’s military sales is aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney. Their engines are used in the fighters, bombers and trainers of 27 militaries around the world and continue to be used in some of the newest aircraft, including the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters.
7 EADS / Airbus Group (Europe): $15.7 billion
The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company was a trans-European company which was reorganized as Airbus Group in 2014. Everyone has heard of Airbus, a company famous for its passenger planes, including the massive double-deck A-380. Not everyone has heard of Airbus Defence and Space, the company’s military branch. In addition to producing and selling a variety of transport and logistics aircraft, the company also helps to produce the Eurofighter Typhoon. In addition to being accepted into the air forces of several European nations, the Typhoon is also being purchased or considered by several countries outside of Europe. Bolstering sales of aircraft are helicopters from Airbus’ helicopter branch – including the Eurocopter Tiger, an attack helicopter incorporating some of the most modern technologies.
6 General Dynamics (USA): $18.66 billion
With its ancestry dating back to 1899 and the construction of submarines, General Dynamics has been in the military business for a long time. Today the company’s military sales come from all areas including air, land, sea and space. From computer systems and displays to Stinger missiles and Tomahawk cruise-missiles, General Dynamics provides a lot of the world’s weaponry. Without a doubt, the product which most people are familiar with is the M1 Abrams tank. The M1 has been the poster child of tank warfare since the first Gulf War in 1991 and its success in the second conflict only boosted its reputation further. Currently used by Egypt, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the US military, upgrades to armor, firepower and an active protection system only suggest that this General Dynamics product will be around for a while longer.
5 Northrop Grumman (USA): $20.22 billion
This Virginia-based company is another massive American arms manufacturer, made famous by its aircraft production. Northrop Grumman was created in 1994 after Northrop purchased aircraft and aerospace company Grumman. Today, the company develops, manufactures and sells a range of military hardware which includes sonar and radar equipment, naval propulsion systems and missile defence components. In addition to the A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft, perhaps the most famous Northrop Grumman product is the B-2 stealth bomber. The ‘Spirit’ has taken part in numerous combat missions since its first in 1999 against targets in Kosovo. In addition to its ability to evade radar detection, the B-2 can carry a heavy bomb load which, in one configuration, can be as much as 80 500lb bombs.
4 Raytheon (USA): $21.95 billion
This defence company is a giant which is best known for being the largest manufacturer of guided missiles in the world. Pick a missile and odds are that this Massachusetts-based company had a hand in making it. From the HARM anti-radar missile to the TOW anti-tank missile to the Sparrow and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, Raytheon owns the missile market. Two of the more famous missile systems from this company include the Patriot surface-to-air missile and the Javelin anti-tank missile. The Patriot was made famous for its use during the Gulf War and the Javelin, in addition to being used in the second Gulf War, is also well known for being able to strike tanks from above where the armor is thinnest. Unsurprisingly, Raytheon is also heavily involved in developing missile defence systems for the US and its allies.
3 BAE Systems (UK): $26.82 billion
BAE Systems is the result of the merging of numerous British communications, aerospace and naval companies into one massive defence company which was founded in 1999. One look at what they make and sell and you can see there are some real ‘big ticket’ items. In the air, the company is involved with the development of the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter and the Eurofighter Typhoon. On the land, BAE manufactures the CV90 and M2/M3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles as well as artillery pieces. For the navy, the company builds an assortment of submarines, frigates and destroyers as well as the newest British aircraft carriers of the Queen Elizabeth class.
2 Boeing (USA): $30.7 billion
Runner-up on this list of biggest arms-manufacturing companies is the American giant Boeing. You probably know this company best for its role in the passenger aircraft business. Indeed, Boeing has established itself as a major player in the civilian market with its commercial jetliners such as the 747, 777 and 787. The Seattle-based company is also a major player in the military market. Boeing supplies the military with everything from refuelling and anti-submarine aircraft to fighter jets and electronic warfare planes. Notable products include the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, F-15 Strike Eagle and F-18 Super Hornet. To complement these vehicles, Boeing also helps to develop munitions such as the JDAM guided bomb, Patriot surface-to-air missile and the Harpoon anti-ship missile.
1 Lockheed Martin (USA): $35.49 billion
At #1 on the list, and miles ahead of most others in terms of arms sales, is Maryland-based Lockheed Martin. In addition to missiles, computer systems and sensors, Lockheed Martin builds some of the most notable products for the US military and its allies. In the air, they manufacture the C-130 Hercules, C-5 Galaxy, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. On the ground they make the M270 rocket launcher and light armored vehicles. At sea, LM provides specialized naval vessels. Lockheed Martin also produces and sells the advanced Aegis combat system, used onboard naval vessels, as well as an array of missile systems which includes the Trident submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Currently, the company is also heavily invested in developing missile defence systems including the PAC-3 and THAAD systems. With so many products developed and on the way, it is unsurprising that Lockheed Martin comes out as the biggest arms producing company in the world.
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