The latest four Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft to roll off the Lockheed Martin production line in Texas, heading straight to Alaska to participate in Exercise Red Flag 21-3. August 2021. (Picture: Australian MOD)


USA vs Russia vs China - how do their weapons sales compare?

Arms trade prospers during pandemic as profits hit record $531 billion in 2020.

The latest four Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft to roll off the Lockheed Martin production line in Texas, heading straight to Alaska to participate in Exercise Red Flag 21-3. August 2021. (Picture: Australian MOD)

The sales of military services and weapons reached a record of $531 billion in 2020 according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The Swedish think tank has concluded that the global arms trade was not affected by the economic downturn created by COVID 19.

According to Alexandra Marksteiner, a researcher at SIPRI, global military spending increased, while some governments even accelerated payments to the arms industry to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.

During the first year of COVID 19, military sales either grew faster or declined at a slower rate than their civilian sales or remained stable while civilian sales fell, illustrating the resilience in the demand and production of military goods and services.

The seven UK firms in the Top 100 list of biggest arms manufacturers saw sales of $37.5bn in 2020, up by 6.2 per cent from 2019.

Meanwhile, French sales declined by 7.7 per cent.

United States

US companies continue to dominate the arms sales industry, accounting for about 54 per cent of all arms sales.

Out of the 100 largest arms selling companies, 41 are US-based.

Their total sale in 2020 amounted to $285 billion, more than half of the global market share.

The top five companies in the ranking since 2018 have all been based in the US.

By far the largest arms company in the world, Lockheed Martin, has occupied the top spot every year since 2009.

In 2020 Lockheed Martin’s revenue from arms sales and military services totalled $58.2 billion - 11 percent of total arms sales.

The second biggest arms company in the world is the Massachusetts-based Raytheon Technologies, which was formed in 2020 by the merger of Raytheon Company and United Technologies Corporation.

In bronze place is Boeing, one of the world’s most well-known aviation manufacturers. Due to the decrease in international travel because of the pandemic, Boeing recorded a loss in total sales of $19.6 billion in 2020.

Its military industry sales also decreased (by 5.8 per cent) from $34.1 billion in 2019 to $32.1 billion in 2020.


The Russian presence on the global arms sales market has steadily been declining since 2017 when sales peaked at $31.5 billion.

Out of the Top 100 of SIPRI’s list of biggest companies – only nine are Russian. Those nine companies accounted for 5.0 per cent of all total sales in 2020.

Their combined arms sales fell by 6.5 per cent from 2019 to 2020 - $28.2 billion to $26.4 billion.

Some of the sharpest declines in arms sales in 2020 were suffered by Russian firms.

Almaz-Antey’s (ranked 17th) arms sales decreased by 31 per cent, Russian Helicopters’ (ranked 81st) by 13 per cent and United Shipbuilding Corporation’s (ranked 33rd) by 11 per cent.

The decrease in production and sales can be attributed to the State Armament Programme for 2011-20 coming to an end.

The programme saw a major modernisation, and with it the pumping of funds into the Russian armed forces.

Coming to an end in 2020, the funding allocated to arms procurement in the follow-up programme is lower in real terms.

Despite the overall downward trend, some Russian companies increased their arms sales significantly.

United Aircraft Corporation’s (ranked  21st), with a majority of shares belonging to the Russian government, saw its sales rise by 16 per cent.

While KRET (ranked 58th) and Russian Electronics (ranked 71st) grew their sales by 22  per cent and 39 per cent, respectively.


China has performed incredibly well in the arms sales market last year.

The eastern economic giant has become a major arms producer in a bid to become more self-sufficient in weapons production.

The rise can also be attributed to massive military modernisation programs of recent years.

Chinese firms beat British companies, to be the second behind the US in the volume of total arms sales in 2020 – 13 per cent of total Top 100 arms sales.

Weapons sales from China amounted to an estimated $66.8bn in 2020, 1.5 per cent more than in 2019.

All five Chinese companies that made it onto the list are state-owned, all ranked in the top 20, with three ranking in the top 10.

NORINCO came out on top as China’s largest arms company.

Founded in 1988, the state-owned defence corporation has more than a quarter of a million employees and traded $17.9 billion in weapons sales in 2020.

Other countries with a stake in the global arms sale industry in the Top 100 included Japan, Israel, South Korea, UAE, Singapore, Ukraine, Germany, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Poland and Sweden.

Several of the top firms such as Boeing and Safran are also involved in the civilian aerospace sector, which was hit particularly hard by the pandemic.