Retired US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler said it first and said it best: "War is a racket. It always has been..."
But what often goes unsaid is his next sentences:
"It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives."
And indeed, every year, the world’s most powerful countries spend billions of dollars on so-called 'defense'.
But where does this money actually flow?
To gain insight, Visual Capitalist's Marcu Lu and Bhabna Banerjee ranked the world’s top 25 defense companies by 2022 revenues, using data from Defense News.
Note that their graphic shows each company’s revenues from defense, and not total revenues. This is because many companies such as Boeing also generate revenue from non-defense related industries and sectors.
Data and Country Highlights
The data we used to create this graphic is listed in the table below.
|Company||Revenues from Defense (USD billions)||Defense share of total revenue (%)|
|🇺🇸 Lockheed Martin||$633||96%|
|🇺🇸 RTX Corp (formerly Raytheon Technologies)||$396||59%|
|🇺🇸 Northrop Grumman||$324||89%|
|🇨🇳 Aviation Industry Corporation of China||$310||37%|
|🇺🇸 General Dynamics||$304||77%|
|🇬🇧 BAE Systems||$252||96%|
|🇨🇳 China North Industries Group||$180||22%|
|🇺🇸 L3Harris Technologies||$139||82%|
|🇨🇳 China South Industries Group||$135||31%|
|🇨🇳 China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation||$96||21%|
|🇺🇸 Booz Allen Hamilton||$59||64%|
|🇩🇪 Rheinmetall AG||$51||75%|
|🇫🇷 Dassault Aviation||$50||76%|
|🇮🇱 Elbit Systems||$50||90%|
|🇫🇷 Naval Group||$46||100%|
|🇺🇸 General Electric||$44||6%|
The U.S. and China are the most represented countries on this list, with 12 and four respective companies in the top 25.
Country Highlights: U.S.
The U.S. consistently has the world’s largest military budget, so it’s no surprise that American companies dominate this ranking. Here are some interesting facts about the top three:
- Formed in 1995 by the merger of Lockheed Corporation and Martin Marietta
- While primarily known for producing advanced fighter jets like the F-35, the company is also working with NASA on the Orion spacecraft
RTX (formerly Raytheon Technologies)
- Raytheon produces a wide range of military equipment, including the Javelin portable anti-tank missile system.
- According to CSIS, the U.S. has supplied 7,000 Javelins to Ukraine, equal to roughly one-third of its stock.
- Formed in 1994 by the merger of Northrop and Grumman Aerospace, this company is known for developing the B-2 stealth bomber.
- In August 2023, the company opened an office in Taiwan to “accelerate access to the company’s technologies”.
Country Highlights: China
China’s top three companies in this ranking are all state-owned enterprises.
Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC)
- AVIC is China’s largest aerospace and defense company, also ranking 150th in the Fortune Global 500 (2023).
- Chengdu Aerospace Corporation, a subsidiary of AVIC, produces China’s first operational stealth fighter, the J-20.
China North Industries Group (CNIG)
- CNIG does business internationally under the name Norinco Group.
- In 2003, Norinco was sanctioned by the Bush administration for allegedly supplying Iran with missile technologies.
China South Industries Group (CSIG)
- CSIG produces military vehicles, ammunitions, and other equipment.
- The company also owns Changan Automobile, a major car brand in China and one of the world’s largest EV producers.
Two European companies on this list that aren’t typically associated with the defense industry are Airbus and Rolls-Royce.
Airbus is one of the world’s largest producers of commercial airliners, and is widely used by major carriers alongside offerings from Boeing. When it comes to defense, Airbus produces a variety of military drones, fighters, and transports.
On the other hand, Rolls-Royce is a major supplier of aircraft and naval engines, and designs the nuclear propulsion systems for the UK’s submarine fleet.
It actually has no affiliation with Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which is currently a subsidiary of BMW. The original company ran into financial difficulties in the 1970s, which led to the separation of the car and aero-engine businesses.