Editor's note: This story was updated to correct a reference to the British Department for International Trade.
LONDON — British defense exports fell nearly 10 percent in 2015 despite the market for global arms exports overall rising significantly, according to figures released by the UK government July 26.
Given the lack of platform sales achieved by British industry last year, the Defence & Security Organisation, which leads the government's export effort in the sector, said the £7.7 billion ($10.1 billion) worth of new business was a "considerable achievement."
The figures were 9.4 percent down compared with British defense export sales for the previous year of £8.5 billion, or $11.2 billion, a figure which was itself a fall from 2013 figures, then bolstered by Leonardo Helicopter sales to Norway and South Korea.
The DSO data showed Britain's share of a global defense-export market falling from 16 percent in 2014 to 12 percent last year at a time when demand for weapons is on the rise.
Last year that market demand reached an estimated £63 billion in 2015 – up 17 percent, or £13 billion, from 12 months earlier.
The export organization, part of the government's newly formed Department for International Trade, headed by ex-defense secretary Liam Fox, warned against expectations of continuing significant rises in global defense exports, saying sales could be under pressure this year.
"The increased global defense-export market total does reflect ongoing strategic threats. Despite fiscal constraints [caused largely by oil price volatility], defense expenditure has been heavily augmented by off-budget funding in a number of cases, but may be under greater threat in 2016," said the DSO. According to the organization, the slip in overseas business resulted in the British falling to third in the defense-export league behind France and the USA, the world's largest weapons supplier.
The rankings depend how you calculate the figures, though. Data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute doesn't put the British in its top five defense-sector exporters.
The sale of 22 BAE Systems Hawk jet trainers to Saudi Arabia was the most notable UK platform export last year after an order for a second tranche of Typhoon combat jets from the Gulf state, the world's largest defense importer, failed to materialize in 2015.
Talks between BAE and the Saudi Government over a deal, which could include an element of local assembly, continue, and the long-awaited order could re-emerge in the next few months.
British export figures also will benefit from the build-up in the supply of systems to Lockheed Martin's F-35 program and Italy's sale of 28 Typhoons to Kuwait earlier this year.
Companies here provide 37 percent of the fighter developed and built with European partners Germany, Italy and Spain.
Worryingly, the air sector continues to dwarf land and maritime exports and accounts for around 85 percent of British defense-export business despite efforts to achieve a better balance across the sectors.
The Middle East, and particularly Saudi Arabia, remains the UK's biggest regional market, followed by North America with 18 percent.
The Ministry of Defence here has recently taken over the lead from DSO in promoting the British Typhoon and other complex weapon-export efforts, although it's too early to say whether the move will be successful.
The impact that a big fighter deal can have on national export figures was evident in France where local industry posted its largest-ever figures for overseas business largely on the back of two Dassault Aviation Rafale fighter sales in 2015.
In total, the French recorded Euro 16 billion ($17.58 billion) in defense exports that year.
Paul Everitt, the chief executive of ADS, the UK trade association representing the defense, aerospace and security industries, said that despite the fall in defense sales Britain's long-term success in the sector could put it atop the European sales league.
"Although today's figures for defense exports are down on last year, on a ten-year rolling basis the UK continues to be Europe's leading defense exporter and second globally. ... The defense and security industries make a direct and valuable contribution to national security and prosperity," said Everitt.
The downturn in defense exports was contrasted by a continuing mark-up in the security sector where UK companies saw overseas business rising by 18 percent last year to reach £4 billion.
The organization said, though, that British security exports would be impacted by a slow-down in sector growth overall to around seven percent annually over the next five years. Previously it had been forecasting growth of up to 16.3 percent.
Cyber sales continued to dominate the security-sector overseas business, at 45 percent of the total, but the DSO said that rising interest in counter-terror and physical security in response to the increasing threat from terror groups and lone wolf attackers was closing the gap with cyber.