Global arms sales grow for 7th consecutive year, reach $592 billion in 2021

New data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows a 1.9% increase in sales by the world’s top 100 arms and military service companies. The US continues to dominate arms sales, accounting for over 50% of the global total in 2021

December 06, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
English: Capt. Tana R.H. Stevenson, U.S. Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The world’s 100 largest providers of arms and military services recorded a combined total of $592 billion in sales in 2021, as per new figures published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as part of its Arms Industry Database. 

The figure marks an increase of 1.9% in real terms compared to 2020, and the seventh consecutive year that arms sales have grown around the world. Between 2015 and 2021, arms sales increased by 19% in real terms, according to SIPRI

While the rate of growth for 2020-21 was higher than the preceding year, the institute reported a decline in arms sales as compared to the average of the four years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We might have expected even greater growth in arms sales in 2021 without persistent supply chain issues,” said Dr. Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, director of the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme. 

Arms companies have faced supply chain issues that have been exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war, SIPRI noted. Russia is a major supplier of the raw materials needed for arms production. 

At a time of heightened militarization around the world, and as the US and Europe continue to pledge billions of dollars in arms and ammunition to Ukraine, SIPRI senior researcher Dr. Diego Lopes da Silva said that “if supply chain disruptions continue, it may take several years for some of the main arms producers to meet the new demand created by the Ukraine war.” 

The US has continued to account for the bulk of global arms sales, with 40 companies included on SIPRI’s list, accounting for combined sales of $299 billion, or over 50% of the global total in 2021. 

In continuation of a trend that emerged in 2018, the world’s five largest arms companies are located in the US, led by Lockheed Martin ($60.3 billion in sales), followed by Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics.  

SIPRI has also pointed to the proliferation of private equity firms in the arms industry, especially in the US, adding that this could affect the transparency of data on arms sales as a result of more lax reporting standards. 

27 out of the top 100 arms companies on the institute’s list are based in Europe, accounting for combined sales of $123 billion, an increase of 4.2% compared to 2020. The UK continues to be the European country with the highest share of companies on this list, with eight companies having combined sales of $40.4 billion. 

Five companies from France that are part of the top 100 witnessed an increase of 15% in their sales to reach $28.8 billion in 2021. 

Six Russian companies are included in the Top 100 list, with combined sales of $17.8 billion in 2021, an increase of 0.4% over 2020. However, SIPRI’s report stated that there were widespread signs of stagnation in the Russian arms industry, and that companies’ access to semiconductors has been reduced. It added that companies are also being impacted by the sanctions imposed on Russia. 

Global arms sales
(Photo: SIPRI/Twitter)

21 companies in Asia and Oceania had combined arms sales amounting to $136 billion in 2021, an increase of 5.8%. Eight Chinese companies were on the SIPRI list with a share of $109 billion, including four that were among the top 10. The institute notes that the growth reflected the “scale of China’s military equipment modernization and its objective to become self-reliant in the production of all categories of major arms”. The country’s arms industry has also seen major consolidation, especially the emergence of the CSSC, which became the world’s largest military shipbuilder in 2021. 

The combined arms sales of four South Korean companies increased by 3.6% in 2021, standing at $7.2 billion. This shift was largely driven by Hanwha Aerospace, whose arms sales are expected to rise even further following an arms deal with Poland. 

2021 is also the first time that a Taiwanese company, NCSIST, has been placed on the top 100 list, with arms sales worth $2 billion. Two Indian companies on the list had combined sales of $5.1 billion, with Bharat Electronics seeing a 20% increase in sales. 

Importantly, five companies from West Asia were on SIPRI’s list, increasing their arms sales by 6.5% in 2021 to reach $15 billion. This was the highest rate of growth of all regions worldwide. 

Global arms sales
(Photo: SIPRI/Twitter)

Out of the five, three companies are Israeli with a share of $11.6 billion. Arms manufacturer Elbit Systems was in the lead, having increased its sales to $4.8 billion. The company also established a subsidiary in the United Arab Emirates following the normalization of ties between the two countries.

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In the two years since the US-mediated Abraham Accords were signed, Israel has secured defense contracts worth $3 billion in the region. In 2021, the UAE and Bahrain, both of whom have normalized ties with the occupation, accounted for 7% of Israel’s defense sales. 

The other two companies in the top 100 are based in Turkey and account for combined sales of $3.4 billion, with Turkish Aerospace seeing a 62% rise in arms sales. Ankara has recorded a drastic increase in arms and aerospace sales since 2002.