The world’s biggest weapons manufacturers largely avoided the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 and recorded a growth in profits last year for the sixth year in a row, according to a report published on December 6.
Governments around the world have continued to buy arms during the pandemic and some also passed measures to help their big weapons firms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
Overall, the 100 top weapons firms saw their profits rise by 1.3 per cent on 2019 to a record $531 billion, despite the global economy contracting by more than three per cent.
“Military manufacturers were largely shielded by sustained government demand for military goods and services,” said Sipri researcher Alexandra Marksteiner in the institute’s annual assessment of arms companies.
“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.”
The top five arms firms were all from the US, Lockheed-Martin consolidating its first place with sales of $58.2 billion.
Britain’s BAE Systems, in sixth position, was the highest-placed European firm, just ahead of three Chinese groups.
“The rise of China as a major arms producer has been driven by its aim to become more self-reliant in weapons production and by the implementation of ambitious modernisation programmes,” the report said.
While China’s arms sales have expanded, they still lag US and British firms, accounting for a total of 13 per cent of the top 100 arms sales in 2020.
Sales by the five Chinese firms in the top 100 totalled an estimated $66.8 billion in 2020, up 1.5 per cent on the previous year.
“In recent years, Chinese arms companies have benefited from the country’s military modernisation programmes and focus on military-civil fusion,” Sipri senior researcher Nan Tian said.
“They have become some of the most advanced military technology producers in the world.”
Of the top-producing countries, only France and Russia saw their firms’ sales decline last year.