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

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The Swedish think tank says the world’s 100 largest arms firms were largely spared the effects of the pandemic.

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According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), sales of arms and military services by the world’s 100 largest arms companies reached a record $531 billion in 2020, an increase of 1.3 percent in real terms from the previous year.


The Swedish think tank said 2020 is the sixth consecutive year of sales growth by the top 100 firms, and this came despite the global economy shrinking. Overall sales were up 17 percent compared to 2015 when it included data from Chinese firms for the first time.

“Industry veterans were largely spared from continued government demand for military goods and services,” Alexandra Marksteiner, researcher at the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Program, said in a statement on Monday. “In much of the world, military spending increased and some governments accelerated payments to the arms industry to cushion the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.”

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Firms in the United States continue to dominate the industry, with 41 companies accounting for approximately 54 percent of all arms sales among the 100 largest companies with total sales of $285 billion. SIPRI said that the top five companies in the rankings since 2018 are based in the US.

Weapons sales from top Chinese firms totaled an estimated $66.8 billion in 2020, a 1.5 percent increase from 2019.

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

“In recent years, Chinese arms companies have focused on the country’s military modernization programs and military-civilian fusion,” said Nan Tian, ​​senior researcher at SIPRI. “They have become some of the most advanced military technology producers in the world.”

The think tank said the 26 European arms companies in the top 100 together contributed 21 percent of total arms sales, or $109 billion.

Seven UK companies recorded arms sales of $37.5 billion in 2020, an increase of 6.2 percent compared to 2019. Weapons sales by BAE Systems – the only European firm in the top 10 – rose 6.6 percent to $24 billion.

Meanwhile, according to the think tank, sales of French companies declined by 7.7 per cent amid decline in deliveries of Rafale fighter jets by Dassault.

Arms maker Thales also saw a 5.8 percent drop in sales, which it attributed to pandemic-induced disruptions. Other companies also reported supply chain disruptions and delays in deliveries.

Meanwhile, Russian arms sales declined for the third year in a row, SIPRI said.

The total sales of the nine Russian companies ranked in the top 100 declined from $28.2bn in 2019 to $26.4bn in 2020, with Russian firms accounting for 5 percent of the top 100 arms sales.

Other countries with arms firms in the top 100 include Israel, Japan, India and South Korea. Sales of four South Korean firms up 4.6 percent to $6.5bn in 2019, think tank said


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