Credit: US Air Force/Miranda Moorer

UK arms sales splutter

Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems are among the British firms suffering from falling defence budgets.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 29 Jan 2016

In normal circumstances, most people would see a 1.3% decline in global military spending as a good thing. War is bad, right? But arms manufacturers (not to mention millions of Syrian refugees) might have a thing or two to say about that. Sales at the eight British defence firms in the world’s top 100 fell 9.3% between 2013 and 2014 as budgets tightened in the UK and US.

Britain remains the second largest arms producer after the USA, with sales from its biggest firms totalling nearly $38bn (£25.5bn), according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The researchers excluded China, though, as they felt unable to rely on Chinese figures for some reason...

Beleaguered aeronautical giant Rolls-Royce could probably have done without the shrivelling of western defence contracts, but actually outperformed the national average. Arms sales at the world’s 22nd biggest defence company fell 2.2% to $5.4bn, ahead of potential government-brokered rescuer and third-placed BAE Systems, which had a 4.1% sales drop to $25.7bn.

These figures are for 2014 though, and a lot can change in a year. Sales at BAE, which is overwhelmingly a defence firm, rose 11% in the first half of 2015, while at Rolls-Royce’s Defence Aerospace division (about a quarter of the overall business) they fell 1%.

In either case, the market leaders by far remain the Americans. They have 38 companies in the top 100, including leader Lockheed Martin and L-3 Communications, which sounds like the world’s most heavily armed PR firm. Together, these companies account for 54.4% of the $401bn sales made by the top 100 firms last year. Happy Christmas? Yes. War is over? Nope. 

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