Global arms sales rise for first time since 2010, study says

  • International sales of arms and military services grew again in 2016 after five years of consecutive decline.
  • The world's 100 largest armaments firms posted total sales of $374.8 billion in 2016, 1.9 percent higher than in 2015.
  • The data came from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
A rendering of Lockheed Martin's directed energy laser weapon that counters drone swarms.
Source: Lockheed Martin
A rendering of Lockheed Martin's directed energy laser weapon that counters drone swarms.

International sales of arms and military services grew again in 2016 after five years of consecutive decline, according to new data by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The world's 100 largest armaments firms posted total sales of $374.8 billion in 2016, 1.9 percent higher than in 2015, the research institute said Monday. SIPRI said that a noticeable trend was a rise in sales for U.S. arms producers and the number of U.S. military services companies ranked in the SIPRI top 100.

"At a combined total of $217.2 billion, arms sales of U.S. companies listed in the SIPRI Top 100 grew by 4.0 percent in 2016," it said, attributing the rise to U.S. military operations overseas as well as acquisitions of large weapon systems by other countries.

Lockheed leads the gains

SIPRI said that the world's largest arms producer, Lockheed Martin, rose by 10.7 percent in 2016, and this was "decisive to the increase in the USA's share of overall SIPRI top 100 sales to 57.9 percent."

"With the acquisition of helicopter producer Sikorsky in late 2015 and higher delivery volumes of the F-35 combat aircraft, Lockheed Martin reported significant growth in its arms sales in 2016," Aude Fleurant, director of SIPRI's arms and military expenditure program.

Aside from the traditional arms producers, the institute also said there was an "emerging producers" trend including companies based in Brazil, India, Turkey and South Korea. It added that the latter was the stand-out "winner" among emerging arms sellers.

Tension on Korean Peninsula

South Korea, neighbor of an increasingly provocative and unpredictable North Korea, saw a 20.6 percent overall increase in the arms sales of South Korean companies, with total sales amounting to $8.4 billion.

"Continuing and rising threat perceptions drive South Korea's acquisitions of military equipment, and it is increasingly turning to its own arms industry to supply its demand for weapons," SIPRI's Siemon Wezeman said. "At the same time, South Korea is aiming to realize its goal of becoming a major arms exporter."

There were mixed fortunes for more "established" arms producers, however. Arms companies based in Australia, Israel, Japan, Poland, Singapore and Ukraine saw their combined arms sales fall by 1.2 percent in 2016, largely driven by an overall decrease in the arms sales of Japanese companies (down 6.4 percent).

BAE Systems Tornado jet
BAE Systems Tornado jet

Japan's largest arms companies experienced sharp falls in 2016. In particular, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' arms sales decreased by 4.8 percent, while those of Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation declined by 16.3 and 29.2 percent, respectively.

"Arms sales" are defined by SIPRI as sales of military goods and services to military customers, including sales for domestic procurement and sales for export. Since SIPRI first started reporting corporate arms sales data in 2002, the arms sales of the "Top 100" are 38 percent higher than those for 2002.

The five highest ranking arms-producing and military services companies are, in 2016 and from the highest ranking in descending order, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman.