The business of war is profitable. In 2011, the 100 largest contractors sold $410 billion in arms and military services. Just 10 of those companies sold over $208 billion. Based on a list of the top 100 arms-producing and military services companies in 2011 compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 companies with the most military sales worldwide in 2011.
These companies have benefited tremendously from the growth in military spending in the U.S., which by far has the largest military budget in the world. In 2000, the U.S. defense budget was approximately $312 billion. By 2011, that figure had grown to $712 billion. Arm sales grew alongside general defense spending growth. SIPRI noted that between 2002 and 2011, arms sales among the top 100 companies grew by 51%.
However, the trend has reversed recently. In 2011, the top 100 arms dealers sold 5% less compared to 2010. Susan Jackson, a defense expert at SIPRI, said in an email to 24/7 Wall St. that austerity measures in Western Europe and the U.S. have delayed or slowed down the procurement of different weapons systems. Austerity concerns have exacerbated matters since 2011. The U.S. federal government budget cuts that took effect beginning this month — commonly known as sequestration — mean that military spending could contract by more than $500 billion over the coming decade unless some of the cuts are reversed.
In addition, the U.S.’s involvement in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down significantly. The last American convoy in Iraq left the country in December of 2011. Troop withdrawals from Afghanistan also began in 2011. Finally, SIPRI pointed out that sanctions on arms transfers to Libya also played a role in declining arms sales.
Many of these companies are looking overseas to try to make up for slowing sales in the U.S. and Europe. Arms producers are especially keen on areas in Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Asia, Jackson said. For instance, BAE is in the process of securing contracting agreements with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the chief financial officer of Northrop Grumman has recently indicated his company may sell its Global Hawk airplane to South Korea or Japan.
Based on the report, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 companies with the most arms sales in 2011. Arms were defined as sales to military customers, either for procurement or for export, but do not include sales of general purpose items such as oil or computer equipment to military customers. We also looked at arms sales from 2010, as well as the company’s total sales in 2010. Furthermore, we considered the company’s 2011 total sales, profits and the total number of employees at the company, all provided by SIPRI.
There are the 10 companies profiting the most from war.