Many of the armed conflicts around the world exist in nations that do not have the capacity to make sophisticated weapons. Most of these are in Africa and the Middle East, including the Tigray War in Ethiopia and the Yemeni crisis. Large conflicts often involve regime change, as has been the case of Iraq, where American forces left behind weapons that can still be used.
There are countries, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, that believe they need protection against possible conflict and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on weapons. Several nations — and companies operating within these nations — provide most of these weapons. The United States is at the top of this list by far, and the company profiting most from war is Lockheed Martin.
While in some nations weapons manufacturers are government owned, in others, they are independent and often design and build these weapons via government contracts. Several of these defense contractors have become among the largest corporations in the world, and some are public companies that trade on major stock markets.
To determine the company profiting the most from war, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Top 100 Arms-Producing Military Services Companies, 2020 report. Companies were ranked based on SIPRI’s estimates of arms and military services sales in 2020. Some Chinese companies were not considered due to insufficient data. Arms and military services sales figures came from SIPRI. Revenue figures for the latest fiscal year came from financial reports and corporate press releases.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic shook the global economy, arms sales continued to increase. The 100 largest military contractors sold $531 billion in arms and military services in 2020, a 1.3% increase compared to 2019, according to SIPRI. (These are 18 of the deadliest weapons of all time.)
The company with the largest arms and military services sales that year was Lockheed Martin Corp. The American military contractor retained its place at the top of the list of the companies profiting the most from war — a position it has occupied every year since 2009.
Lockheed Martin sold $58.2 billion worth of arms and military services in 2020, accounting for 89% of the company’s total sales of $65.4 billion. The company’s arms sales increased by 7.7% from 2019 to 2020.
The company suffered a high-profile flop in 2021, when the Air Force admitted that the stealth fighter jets Lockheed Martin had spent over two decades working on were a failure. The U.S. military wanted to replace the aging F-16s, but Lockheed’s attempts at designing new aircraft were consistently delayed, and once they were finally produced, they did not meet the capability rating benchmark the military wanted.
Though many of these companies primarily work to develop new technologies for the military, these projects often end up having civilian applications. Many everyday items and technologies like microwaves, GPS, and even the internet were initially conceived of either by or for the U.S. military. These are popular commercial products you never knew were invented by the military.