Defending a country is important business. Armies all over the world spend billions on building weapons and investigating new technologies. However, they cannot do all this work alone, which is why the world’s biggest armies rely on military contractors. Here are some of the largest defense contracting firms in the world.
Military contractors provide a variety of services to armies, from research and development and manufacturing to services such as catering. Most of the biggest military contractors are manufacturers of weapons and equipment, which should come as no surprise.
In recent years, software and technology companies have become more important contractors as the world of warfare is changing and entering the 21st century. They may not challenge the dominance of established military contractors just yet though.
Here are the 15 largest military contractors in the world using revenue data from 2021. Many of the top contractors are from the United States, but other countries such as China are seeing increases in defense spending.
Table of Contents
- 15. China Electronics Technology Group
- 14. China South Industries Group Corporation
- 13. Leonardo
- 12. Airbus
- 11. China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation
- 10. China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited
- 9. L3Harris Technologies
- 8. China North Industries Group Corporation Limited
- 7. BAE Systems
- 6. Aviation Industry Corporation of China
- 5. General Dynamics
- 4. Northrop Grumman
- 3. Boeing
- 2. Raytheon Technologies
- 1. Lockheed Martin
15. China Electronics Technology Group
Many of the top Chinese defense contractors are actually state-owned companies, and China Electronics Technology Group is no different. This company specializes in security systems and electronic information. In 2021, it posted $10.4 billion in revenue from defense contracts.
China Electronics Technology Group is a relatively new company, only founded in 2002. That makes sense since it focuses on digital technology and communication systems, a new field. The company is known for contributing to civilian electronics as well as manufacturing electronic parts for military equipment such as radar.
CETC has frequently been at the center of espionage scandals and was one of the flashpoints in the escalating tensions between the US and China in 2019.
14. China South Industries Group Corporation
China South Industries Group Corporation is another Chinese state-owned defense contractor. Its specialty is vehicles and similar manufacturing. In 2021, its revenue was $10.7 billion.
The main focus of China South Industries Group Corporation is vehicles, ranging from cars to heavy-duty military vehicles. It also manufactures related products such as vehicle parts and even firearms. The ever-expanding company has interests in all related fields, including oil and gas, which it needs to fuel its products for China’s People’s Liberation Army.
However, China South Industries Group Corporation also has operations on the civilian side of the sector. It is the parent company for Chang’an Automobile, a manufacturing company that makes civilian cars, including those in partnership with foreign manufacturers such as Ford.
Leonardo, an Italian company named after Leonardo da Vinci, is a security contractor that has a decisive aerospace focus. It is also one of the largest European companies operating in defense and one of the few from the continent that made it into the list. In 2021, it achieved $11.2 billion in defense contract revenue.
Leonardo may be an Italian company, but it contracts for the U.S. government as well, which makes sense because Italy and the U.S. are allied, and the U.S. military budget is much higher than the Italian one. Leonardo even has production bases in the United States, mostly for helicopters, airplanes, and aerospace technology such as control systems.
The company is frequently at the forefront of innovation in aerospace. Recent highlights include the C-27J Spartan plane for emergency response situations. Leonardo is the owner of AgustaWestland helicopters.
Airbus is the only European company on the list of the world’s biggest defense contractors besides Leonardo. The joint French-Dutch company reported $12 billion in revenue from defense contracts in 2021.
Like Leonardo, Airbus is a company that focuses on aerospace manufacturing and engineering. It is most famous for its civilian aircraft, one of the few that international airlines rely on besides Boeing.
However, Airbus also makes military aircraft ranging from traditional airplanes to advanced aircraft such as unmanned drones and satellites. Besides making aircraft itself, Airbus engineers and manufactures systems that support air operations such as communication systems.
11. China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation
Another massive aerospace company, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation is a Chinese state-owned company focusing on everything related to the aerospace industry. In 2021, it posted $12.1 billion in defense contracts.
The company is famous primarily for its role in developing China’s space program. Besides making rockets, it also manufactures satellites. That doesn’t mean the executives of this company have their heads in the clouds. The massive conglomerate also manufactures staples of modern warfare such as missile systems.
Like many defense contractors, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation also has a civilian side that manufactures relevant products such as machinery and even environmental protection equipment.
10. China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited
Aerospace may be more modern and glamorous, but shipbuilding is still one of the most important supports for both military and civilian operations. Nobody understands this better than China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited, the third-largest shipbuilding company in the world, which also posted $13.4 billion in revenue from defense contracts alone.
The company’s main focus is ship manufacturing, both civilian and military entities. In 2021 it collected a total of $46.8 billion in revenue.
Like many Chinese defense contractors, China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited blurs the line between defense and civilian industries. The company owns all the country’s shipyards and factories manufacturing related equipment.
9. L3Harris Technologies
L3Harris Technologies is an American firm specializing in advanced technology, particularly within the aerospace sector. In 2021, this massive company earned $14.9 billion in defense contracts, primarily from the US government.
L3Harris Technologies used to be two companies. When L3 Technologies and Harris Corporation merged in 2019, they formed the 6th-largest defense contractor in the United States. Harris Corporation in particular has a storied history in US defense as it included a subsidiary that made technology vital for the space race.
Today, L3Harris Technologies is respected primarily for its electronics, including surveillance and electronic warfare. Its role in surveillance made the company the subject of controversy a few years ago.
8. China North Industries Group Corporation Limited
China North Industries Group Corporation Limited, sometimes called Norinco, is one of China’s largest defense contractors. Although it focuses on heavy-duty defense equipment, it has dealings with various civilian industries as well such as civil engineering and railroad manufacturing.
In 2021, the company earned $15.2 billion in revenue from defense contracts. It manufactures and develops all sorts of equipment for the Chinese military, including armored vehicles, precision strike and long-range weapons, and more.
The civilian dealings of China North Industries Group Corporation Limited are just as varied. It makes civilian sports weapons as well as radar systems. Norinco is also a leading investor in petroleum resources development.
7. BAE Systems
BAE Systems is the U.K.’s largest defense contractor with $23.5 billion in revenue from defense contracts in 2021. Not all of that revenue comes from the British government as BAE Systems is also one of the largest contractors with the U.S. military and has partnerships with countries all over the world. These partnerships are often controversial as protestors targeted the manufacturer in 2019 for supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia.
BAE Systems is so large because it is involved in so many sub-industries within the military world, including aerospace and information technology. These are the fields that are growing in importance thanks to the development of modern war. BAE Systems is often at the forefront of these innovations.
Some of the company’s most notable achievements include developments in the world of digital intelligence and gray warfare. Many of its cybersecurity products are used by government officials to protect from hackers.
6. Aviation Industry Corporation of China
Aviation Industry Corporation of China is China’s largest defense contractor. It made $25.5 billion from defense contracts in 2021. That’s pretty remarkable considering that the company saw major upheavals in 2008 after the Chinese government restructured the China Aviation Industry Corporation, merging two previously split parts of the conglomerate.
According to the company’s own website, it focuses on all things related to aviation, both civilian and domestic. This includes manufacturing airplanes and helicopters, researching and testing new products, and developing support systems for aviation.
AVIC is one of the biggest players in the international aviation industry. It pulls the strings of 100 branches and 27 subsidiaries, including many international divisions and aeronautics companies.
5. General Dynamics
General Dynamics is a true defense contracting behemoth, with $29.8 billion in defense contracting revenue posted in 2021. This American corporation is a domestic and international giant (all of the five biggest defense contractors globally are American).
General Dynamics describes itself as an aerospace and defense company. Its diverse portfolio includes weapons and equipment such as tanks, rockets, missiles, and more. It has close partnerships with all branches of the United States military as well as Allied governments.
However, General Dynamics does not limit itself to producing old-school, physical equipment. The company is also a leader in technology and digital Information Technology sector. General Dynamics is also a leader in civilian manufacturing because it is the brainstorming company behind Gulfstream jets, the most popular name in business jets.
4. Northrop Grumman
Northrop Grumman is another American titan in the global defense industry. In 2021 alone, this company earned $31.4 billion in defense contracts. Its primary focus is defense manufacturing as well as aerospace technology.
Northrop Grumman is frequently at the forefront of weapons manufacturing technology. It is the company behind the world’s only stealth bomber, the B-2 Spirit, and the first unmanned air system that can operate from an air carrier instead of the land, the X-47B.
Northrop Grumman is also an innovator in another field. Its CEO is Kathy J. Warden, the most powerful woman currently running an American defense contracting field (Lockheed Martin used to be led by Marilyn Hewson before she resigned). Defense and the military industries are largely male-dominated, but these women are breaking barriers.
Aviation enthusiasts are probably familiar with Boeing for its achievements in civilian aircraft. Along with Airbus, it has a monopoly on big civilian jetliners, and many people consider the Boeing 747 to be the finest airplane for passenger travel on the market. However, Boeing is also an important contractor for the US military.
In 2021, Boeing earned $32.4 billion of its total revenue from defense contracts. Most of these contracts were from the United States military, which Boeing supplies with aerospace equipment and technology. The company even has a designated division to handle its defense contracting, Boeing Defense, Space, & Security.
Boeing’s contributions to the military include tactical aircraft handling surveillance, mobility, and more. Besides airplanes and helicopters, Boeing also makes aeronautic technology such as the Airborne Warning and Control System, which alerts governments to intruders in their airspace.
2. Raytheon Technologies
Raytheon Technologies is one of the biggest names in the world for military equipment and defense contracting. In 2021 alone, this giant earned $42 billion in defense contracts.
Anything you can imagine a military might need; Raytheon Technologies can take care of it. The massive conglomerate has divisions focusing on all aspects of aircraft manufacturing, guided missiles, satellites, and even newer technology such as cybersecurity.
Anyone familiar with the US military is also familiar with the Raytheon name, but so are moviegoers who love summer blockbusters. Raytheon manufactured the F/A-18 Super Hornet that has a starring role in Top Gun: Maverick, continuing the tradition of the original of showing the exploits both of fighter pilots and the technology they rely on.
1. Lockheed Martin
If you know any defense contractor, chances are that you know Lockheed Martin. It’s no wonder because this is the biggest company in the defense industry and recipient of defense contracts in the world. In 2021 alone, it earned $62.6 billion in defense contracts.
Most of Lockheed Martin’s money comes from aeronautics sales (it’s no coincidence that many of the biggest names on this list are aeronautics companies or at least dabble in this lucrative industry). Lockheed Martin is ruthless not only in its manufacturing of weapons but also in the way it survived the upheavals of the 1990s through strategic mergers and acquisitions.