The apex of the Defense News Top 100 list for 2023 might look familiar to some of our loyal readers.
The stability of the defense market is reflected in the top nine companies on the list, all of which were in the top 10 last year — though the order has slightly shifted.
Growing defense revenue isn’t something a company can do overnight. One of the fastest ways is by merging or acquiring another company, but the U.S. government has made clear its opposition to major mergers — as well as some smaller deals. (Lockheed Martin unsuccessfully sought to acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2021 and 2022; now L3Harris Technologies has acquired it.)
The other, generally slower way is finding new work. But the defense budget, while boosted by Ukraine war spending, is generally about flat these days, meaning there’s no massive surge of money into new or unexpected programs.
Even so, there is some movement on the list. Boeing dropped to the fifth spot, down from 3rd last year, and its lowest ranking since it placed 5th in the 2018 list. The company last year reorganized its defense unit after delays of key programs, rising costs, quality concerns and significant losses.
Ukraine’s Ukroboronprom moved up 24 spots this year to 65th place, as the country has spent nearly 18 months fighting Russia’s invasion.
A closer look at the list
Just over half of the companies on the list are U.S. businesses. Thirty-one firms are based in Europe, and eight non-Chinese firms from the Asia-Pacific region are on the list.
Still, we recognize this list has some gaps. We can’t capture the defense revenue of Indian companies this year in large part because our correspondent there was arrested. We rely on a think tank to provide the data for the Chinese companies; three state-owned enterprises that were in last year’s list did not release figures for consideration in this version by press time.
There are no Russian firms on this year’s list because they did not respond to our requests for information and we couldn’t locate reputable sources of data.
Some private companies with significant defense revenue, such as General Atomics, opt not to provide data, while technology companies including Amazon and Google don’t offer comprehensive information on their defense revenue.
We also opt not to include medical and pharmaceutical companies in our list, even though they often have sizable military business, because we focus on companies producing weapons systems, military capabilities and associated technology.
That said, we hope this list offers a useful snapshot of who’s who in the modern industrial base as well as a window into how it’s changing.
Marjorie Censer is the editor of Defense News. She was previously editor of Inside Defense. She has also worked as the defense editor at Politico, as well as a staff writer at the Washington Post, the Carroll County Times and the Princeton Packet.