The SIPRI Arms Industry Database includes public and private companies but excludes manufacturing or maintenance units of the armed services. Only companies with operational activities in the field of military goods and services are included, not holding or investment companies. Military research and development (R&D) divisions at academic institutions are also excluded.
The sources of data on the companies include company annual reports and websites, and news published in the business sections of newspapers, in military journals and by internet news services specializing in military matters. Press releases, marketing reports, government publications of contract awards and country surveys are also consulted. Publicly available information on financial and employment data on the arms industry worldwide is limited. The scope of the data and the geographical coverage are largely determined by the availability of information.
SIPRI data on arms-producing and military services companies is revised on an ongoing basis as improved data becomes available. For this reason, it is not possible to make a strict comparison between editions of the SIPRI Yearbook. In addition, coverage may differ because of problems with obtaining data to make satisfactory estimates for all companies every year. However, the lists of the Top 100 for 2002–20 available on this website are based on a common, up-to-date set of data, and may be meaningfully compared with one another.
Arms and military services sales (‘arms sales’ for short) are defined by SIPRI as sales of military goods and services to military customers, including both sales for domestic procurement and sales for export:
- Military goods and services are those that are designed specifically for military purposes and the technologies related to such goods and services. Military goods are military-specific equipment and do not include general-purpose goods, such as oil, electricity, office computers, uniforms and boots.
- Military services are also military-specific. They include technical services, such as information technology, maintenance, repair and overhaul, and operational support; services related to the operation of the armed forces, such as intelligence, training, logistics and facilities management; and armed security in conflict zones. They do not include the peacetime provision of purely civilian services, such as healthcare, cleaning, catering and transportation, but supply services to operationally deployed forces are included.
The SIPRI definition of ‘arms sales’ serves as a guideline; in practice it is difficult to apply. There is currently no suitable alternative, however, because no generally agreed standard definition exists. In some cases, the data on arms sales reflects only what a company considers to be the defence share of its total sales. In other cases, SIPRI uses the figure for the total sales of a ‘defence’ division, although the division may also have some unspecified civil sales.
When the company does not report a sales figure for a defence division or similar entity, arms sales are sometimes estimated by SIPRI. Such estimates are based on data on contract awards, information on the company’s current arms-production and military services programmes, and figures provided by company officials in media or other reports. For all these reasons, the comparability of the company arms sales figures given in the Top 100 is limited.
Data on total sales is for consolidated sales—that is, including those of domestic as well as foreign subsidiaries. All data is presented on the financial-year basis reported by the company in its annual report.
All data is collected in local currency and at current prices. For conversion from local currencies to US dollars, SIPRI uses the International Monetary Fund (IMF) annual average of market exchange rates (as provided in International Financial Statistics). The data in the Top 100 is provided in both current and constant dollars.
Changes between years in this data using current dollar values are difficult to interpret because the change in dollar values is made up of several components:
- the change in arms and military services sales,
- the rate of inflation and,
- for sales conducted in local currency, fluctuations in the exchange rate.
Sales on the international arms market are often conducted in dollars. Fluctuations in exchange rates thus do not have an impact on the dollar values but affect instead the value in local currency.
Calculations in constant dollar terms can also be difficult to interpret for similar reasons.
Without knowing the relative shares of arms and military services sales derived from domestic procurement and from arms exports, it is impossible to interpret the exact meaning and implications of the arms sales data. This data should therefore be used with caution. This is particularly true for countries with strongly fluctuating exchange rates.
Definitions, sources and selection criteria for the international presence of the world’s largest arms companies
In 2020 SIPRI published the findings of a project aimed at mapping the international presence of the world’s largest arms companies in 2019.
‘International presence’ refers to the location of majority-owned foreign entities involved in arms-production and military services activities.
‘Entity’ encompasses branches, majority-owned subsidiaries and joint ventures, some of which may be military research facilities.
‘Foreign’ entity refers to any entity legally registered in a country other than the one in which the ultimate parent company is headquartered.
The definition of military goods and services is the same as for the top 25 and archived Top 100.
Sources and methods
Company reports and stock exchange and investment filings; company websites and social media pages; company employee profiles on LinkedIn; company press statements; public company registrars; and media reports.
Criteria for inclusion as a foreign entity of an arms company in 2019
|Criteria||Reasons for inclusion||Reasons for exclusion|
|Location||The entity is legally registered in a country other than the one in which the ultimate parent company is headquartered.||The entity is legally registered in the same country as the one in which the ultimate parent company is headquartered.|
|Time period||The entity was operational for 6 months or more in 2019.||The entity was operational for less than 6 months in 2019.|
|Activitiesa||The entity (a) manufactures military goods or provides military services to military customers; or (b) manufactures, or provides services for, dual-use goods to military customers.||The entity (a) is involved only in sales, marketing and outreach activities (i.e. through a representative office); or (b) manufactures, or provides services for, dual-use goods but no military customers were identified.|
|Ownership||Only majority-owned entities were included in the data set, down to 3 levels:
Level 1—Ultimate parent company;
Level 2—Subsidiary/joint venture; and
Level 3—Subsidiary of a subsidiary/subsidiary of a joint venture/joint venture of a subsidiary.
At each level, the immediate parent company had to own more than 50% of the entity in the level below.b
|Holding and investment companies with no direct operational activities were not treated as a company level. Companies owned by such entities are categorized at a higher level than they otherwise would be.
a. Military goods and services are those specifically designed for military applications. This refers to manufactured military equipment or components thereof; maintenance, repair and overhaul services; training; and research and development. Military customers are defence ministries, armies, navies, air forces, paramilitaries, special forces and agencies tasked with military intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
b. In the case that information on the exact share of ownership could not be found, the entity was included in the data set.