Arms sales of global top 100 firms continue to grow amid pandemic, economic downturn

The global arms industry has weathered the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn.

Sales of arms and military services by the world’s 100 largest companies totalled $531 billion in 2020, an increase of 1.3 per cent in real terms compared with the previous year.

This is according to new data released on Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Combined arms sales by the three Indian companies in the Top 100 grew by 1.7 per cent. In 2020, the Indian Government announced a phased ban on imports of certain types of military equipment to bolster self-reliance in arms production.

The arms sales of the top 100 arms companies in 2020 were 17 per cent higher than in 2015, the first year for which SIPRI included data on Chinese firms. This marked the sixth consecutive year of growth in arms sales by the Top 100.

Arms sales increased even as the global economy contracted by 3.1 per cent during the first year of the pandemic.

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

Nevertheless, operating in the military market did not guarantee immunity to the effects of the pandemic. French arms manufacturer Thales, for example, ascribed a drop in arms sales of 5.8 per cent to lockdown-induced disruptions in the spring of 2020. Some companies also reported supply chain disruptions and delayed deliveries.

The United States once again hosted the highest number of companies ranked in the Top 100. Together, the arms sales of the 41 US companies amounted to $285 billion, an increase of 1.9 per cent compared with 2019 and accounted for 54 per cent of the Top 100’s total arms sales. Since 2018, the top five companies in the ranking have all been based in the US.

The US arms industry is undergoing a wave of mergers and acquisitions. To broaden their product portfolios and thus gain a competitive edge when bidding for contracts, many large US arms companies are opting to merge or acquire promising ventures. “This trend is particularly pronounced in the space sector,” said Marksteiner. “Northrop Grumman and KBR are among several companies to have acquired high-value firms specialized in space technology in recent years.”

Chinese firms accounted for second largest share of Top 100 arms sales. The combined arms sales of the five Chinese companies included in the Top 100 amounted to an estimated $66.8 billion in 2020, 1.5 per cent more than in 2019.

Chinese firms accounted for 13 per cent of total Top 100 arms sales in 2020, behind US companies and ahead of companies from the United Kingdom, which made up 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 Dr Nan Tian, SIPRI Senior Researcher.

The 26 European arms companies in the Top 100 jointly accounted for 21 per cent of total arms sales, or $109 billion. The seven British companies recorded arms sales of $37.5 billion in 2020, up by 6.2 per cent compared with 2019. Arms sales by BAE Systems, the only European firm in the top 10, increased by 6.6 per cent to $24.0 billion, 6.2 per cent compared with 2019. Arms sales by BAE Systems, the only European firm in the top 10—increased by 6.6 per cent to $24.0 billion.

(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached at




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