LONDON — Sales of Typhoon jets to Qatar and F-35 related components to the U.S. were largely behind a record breaking year which saw British defense exports in 2018 reach £14 billion, according to new figures released July 30 by the Department for International Trade (DIT).
Export sales rose by £5 billion compared with 2017, boosting the British into second place in terms of global defense exports and pushing Russia and France into third and fourth place, respectively, for the year.
The DIT report illustrates how reliant Britain is on Middle East partners like Saudi Arabia and Qatar for its high performing exports business. The report shows that close to 80 percent of all British defense exports came from the region last year. Anti-arms campaigners in Britain are currently mounting a challenge against the legality of some previous defense exports to the Saudis.
Over the last ten years, the Middle East, North America and Europe have provided the biggest markets for the British, in that order.
The figures were provided by the DIT’s defense and security arm, known as the Defence and Security Organisation (DSO). According to the DSO, the British took an estimated 19 percent share of the defense export market for 2018, compared with 14 percent by Russia and 9 percent by France.
As is the case every year, the U.S. arms industry continued to dominate the world market, with DSO figures putting the Americans in control of 40 percent of a global export market, at $100 billion for 2018, according to the government department.
The vast majority of British defense exports are from the air market sector. Around 96 percent of export sales last year were generated from defense aerospace, with the Typhoon sales to Qatar and an accompanying deal to purchase Brimstone missiles a major driver in Britain’s good year.
The other major factor is the ramp up in the supply of items for the F-35 production line. Britain is the biggest overseas partner on the F-35 build program with BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce among a number of important suppliers.
This lack of diversification is a concern for London. France, for example, may not have done as well as the British last year overall, but a number of defense industry sectors contributed to what turned out to be a good performance.
French exports rose to €9.1 billion, a 30 percent rise from 2017. It’s biggest customers last year were Qatar, including Rafale fighter jets and NH-90 helicopters; Belgium, with Griffon and Jaguar armored vehicles; Saudi Arabia, including patrol vessels; and Spain, for NH-90 helicopters.
“It is worth noting that the portfolios of major competitors to the UK, such as the USA and France, appear slightly less unbalanced than the UK’s, and therefore, these supplier nations are less exposed to sector fluctuation,” noted the DIT report.
The good news for the UK: this year should go some way to redressing the balance between the British export sectors. The major maritime success of the Type 26 anti-submarine frigate, selected by both Australia and Canada, should starting appearing in the export data for 2019.
Security equipment exports also continued to grow last year, the DIT reported, rising 7.2 percent from 2017 and crossing the £5 billion barrier. Almost half the exports went to Europe, with the North American market accounting for 18 percent of the sales.
Cyber accounted for roughly 40 percent of those exports.