This briefing sets out information and data on UK arms exports in 2021 from a variety of sources. It discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each source, and analyses trends in these data. Much of the information comes from official UK government sources, including annual and quarterly reports on arms export licences, and an annual survey of defence and security export contracts. However, this information is partial and incomplete, and often hard to interpret. While a substantial amount of detail is available on export licences in particular, this masks a serious lack of transparency in some respects. Official information can be supplemented by that from other sources, such as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), to help give a more rounded picture, but even so there are significant gaps in what it is possible to know in the public domain. This briefing therefore sets out what it is and is not possible to know about UK arms exports through the various available sources.
The overall picture is that UK arms exports clearly declined in 2020 and 2021, and in particular exports of major platforms and systems are at a historically low level. However, the trade in subsystems, components, and services continues at a high level, with Saudi Arabia remaining a primary customer.