Sales of the AW159 helicopter to South Korea were among the UK's biggest export successes last year. (AgustaWestland)
LONDON — Britain’s defense exports reached nearly £10 billion (US $17.1 billion) in 2013 with two helicopter orders secured by the UK arm of AgustaWestland leading the effort, according to figures released by the government Tuesday.
The British recorded total defense exports of £9.8 billion in a global market that declined 14 percent last year to $70 billion, according to the government.
Even with the decline, the global defense export market was still the second highest ever and followed a year when the US achieved overseas sales of $40 billion, including a deal with Saudi Arabia accounting for around half that amount.
The UK statistics also showed an increase in security exports of 18 percent to reach £3.2 billion. About 40 percent of that figure is accounted for by cybersecurity products and services.
The US and China were the biggest security export markets for the British, the statistics showed.
Combined, the defense and security industries achieved exports of £13 billion last year compared with £11.5 billion in 2012.
Lord Livingston, the UK minister for trade and investment, said the defense and security exports were a “great performance in very tough market conditions and underlines the strength and resilience of these industries.”
Release of the figures comes just days before industry and government are expected to roll out a defense growth cooperation plan, which in part focuses on improving Britain’s defense export performance. A growth plan for the security sector is also in the early stages of formulation.
Exports of the AW159 Wildcat helicopter to South Korea and the AW101 to Norway were the main successes, said the Defence & Security Organisation, the UK government’s sales arm.
The purchase of 16 AW101s for search-and-rescue operations accounted for over £1 billion of exports.
Aside from Norway and South Korea, the Middle East and the US remained the UK’s most important markets. Saudi Arabia has been Britain’s chief export market for years primarily through delivery and support of military aircraft. The US accounted for over £1 billion of business last year
The helicopter figures emphasized once again how dependent the British are on the air sector for export success.
Between 2004 and 2013, the air sector accounted for 83 percent of defense export sales, according to the figures. Land accounted for 10 percent and maritime the remaining 7 percent.
The government said Britain remains the world’s second largest arms exporter behind the US but ahead of Russia. British export figures are based on contracts signed during the year whereas many other nations use deliveries as their baseline.
The British rankings assessment is at odds with figures published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which places Britain sixth, just behind France on exports between 2009-2013. The figures, though, do not strictly compare like-with-like.
The government said Britain accounts for 20 percent of the global defense export market on a 10-year rolling basis but admits its share could be skewed due to competitors’ deals that do not enter the public domain.
Over the 10-year period, the Middle East accounted for 55 percent of British exports — principally the sales and support of fast jets and trainer aircraft. By contrast, Latin America accounted for only 1 percent over the period.