American military spending will top $800 billion in fiscal 2023, more than the entire economies of most countries. While U.S. defense spending includes pay and benefits for military personnel, the bulk of it (over half in fiscal 2021) goes directly to companies that have contracts with the federal government.
The U.S. Defense Department relies on contractors for everything from base construction and maintenance to weapons development and manufacturing. With hundreds of billions of dollars flowing from the Pentagon to the private sector each year, the U.S. defense industry is by far the largest of any country in the world. In fact, 40 of the world’s 100 largest defense contractors, as measured by arms and military services sales, are headquartered in the U.S. according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Using 2021 arms sales data from SIPRI Arms Industry Database, 24/7 Wall St. identified the largest American weapons manufacturers. Each of the 36 companies on this list reported at least $1 billion in arms sales in 2021.
The products and services the companies on this list provide include communication and navigation systems, small arms ammunition, precision guided missiles, submarines, surface vessels, fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and battle tanks. The companies reporting the most revenue from arms sales have furnished the U.S. Air Force and Navy with hundreds of fighter jets and other aircraft, many of which have price tags of over $100 million. (Here is a look at the most expensive planes in the U.S. Air Force.)
Weapons procurement is only part of the picture, however, as many of the more sophisticated weapons systems used by the military are the product of years of development. The Air Force’s new long-range nuclear stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, for example, now in the ground test phase ahead of test flights later this year, was developed by the Virginia-based contractor Northrop Grumman over a seven-year period before it was introduced in December 2022. (Here is a look at the 30 inventions that shaped military history.)
Not only do the companies on this list often collaborate with the Pentagon on weapons development, but they often also collaborate with each other. Many weapons systems in the U.S. arsenal are so advanced that no single company can manage production from start to finish. A single fighter jet or tank may integrate an engine from one company, a computer system from another, and a gun turret from yet another.
Click here to see the largest American weapons manufacturers.
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