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Arms companies

Arms companies produce the weaponry and equipment that facilitate conflict and repression. They sell to whoever it’s in their commercial interest to sell to, and use their massive political influence to ensure they receive government support. Sales are presented in terms of ‘defence’ and ‘allies’, but this is a smokescreen. A buyer is a buyer.

Last updated 26 September 2020

The shape of the arms industry

The arms industry is sprawling and not always easy to categorise. There are many thousands of companies involved in the production of weaponry and other military and ‘security’ equipment and services.

The dominant producers

Despite the large number of companies involved in the arms trade as a whole, it is dominated by a small number of major corporations. They are the producers of the aircraft, missiles, warships and vehicles that carry the weapons and “systems” of the armed forces.

The largest ten arms producers comprise Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics of the US, Almaz-Antey of Russia, and western-European companies BAE Systems, Airbus, Leonardo and Thales.

The dominance of the US is obvious, with the five companies listed above being the five largest in the world. This is unsurprising given that the US is the largest military spender, with 38% of global expenditure (for 4% of the world’s population). In addition to the US-headquartered companies, the US is a main customer for many European companies.

… BAE Systems

BAE’s portfolio includes combat aircraft, warships, tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery, missiles, small arms ammunition, cyber & intelligence, and nuclear missile submarines.

The company’s Typhoon and Tornado combat aircraft have been central to Saudi Arabia’s devastating attacks on Yemen – attacks that have killed thousands and created a humanitarian disaster. Further Typhoon aircraft were delivered to Saudi Arabia during the bombing, and BAE and the UK government continue to push hard for a contract for more aircraft. BAE’s involvement also goes beyond delivering equipment. BAE has 6,500 staff in Saudi Arabia to support the operational capabilities of the Saudi armed forces. That is, the attacks on Yemen.

Arabian activist Ameen Nemer went to BAE’s Annual General Meeting in 2019. He reported:

“for people in Saudi Arabia and Yemen it is impossible to separate the people who sell the weapon from the ones that use them.”



The UK government is once again allowing the sale of weapons for use in the bombing of Yemen. Please act now to make sure your MP is aware of a new UN report that highlights the "documented patterns of serious violations of International Humanitarian Law” and to urge the government to stop all arms sales and military support for the coalition.

Email your MP

Sub-systems and components

The supply chain below the dominant producers is extensive. It consists of well-known companies such as Rolls-Royce and GE which produce aero-engines, through companies that produce sub-systems that are integrated into larger systems or finished equipment, down to the producers of individual components and parts. The public information that sub-system and component producers provide varies widely – from details of equipment that include their products, to almost nothing.

Small arms and ‘crowd control’

A highly visible part of the arms industry, relative to its turnover, is small arms production. Companies include Heckler & Koch, FN Herstal, Pakistan Ordnance Factories, Israel Weapon Industries and Smith & Wesson.

Similar to these are the companies that produce arms used to suppress protest, such as tear gas manufacturers – CTS and Defense Technology of the US; Condor of Brazil; PW Defence (formerly Chemring Defence) in the UK,  and Korea CNO Tech of South Korea. Their products might be, and have been, photographed in the aftermath of state violence in numerous countries.

Military and security service companies

Other contractors primarily provide services such as training, maintenance and logistics. Babcock maintains warships and the UK’s nuclear-armed submarines, manages armoured vehicle training fleets and carries out flying training. Similarly, Serco maintains aircraft, operates airfields, provides training, is one of the three shareholders in the Atomic Weapons Establishment and runs immigration detention centres.

Mercenary companies

Also known as private military & security companies (PMSCs), these companies are centred on ex-military personnel and sell their services to governments, mining and shipping companies, relief organisations and similar bodies. The range of tasks undertaken by such companies is growing. Some are non-combatant activities that used to carried out by members of the armed forces, but others involve the carrying, and potential use, of weaponry.

Companies such as Aegis Defence Services (now part of GardaWorld) and Blackwater rose to prominence and notoriety during the US/UK invasion of Iraq. GardaWorld and other companies such as G4S still operate there, with Iraq being described by G4S as “a challenging but highly rewarding operating environment.”

Political influence

Arms companies are not particularly large by international business standards. The largest, Lockheed Martin, has a total sales of $54 billion, compared with Toyota which has sales of £265 billion or Apple with $229 billion.

However, their influence within government is out of proportion to this size. The larger companies have managed to insert themselves into the heart of government. They sit on powerful advisory bodies; company executives alongside government ministers. Senior politicians, civil servants and military personnel ‘revolve’ into arms industry jobs providing personal contacts and access.

Discussion is then based on military-corporate-political ‘groupthink’ rather than what is best for the public. The result is unquestioning support for arms exports, high levels of military spending and a militaristic approach to problems.

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Explore CAAT’s library of publications to learn more about and take action against the arms trade. These include reports, the CAAT News magazine, parliamentary submissions and more. You can browse all publications below, or filter by type, topic, year, and/or countries and companies covered in the contents.

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