Defense News’ Top 100 list remains a valuable data set in assessing how global defense contractors have — or have not — changed. Absent are most major Russian contractors, and some others are regrettably not included, notably SpaceX, General Atomics and Edge Group. Also regrettable is that some firms do not appear to have responded to Defense News’ request for data.
In reviewing the data that is available in this year’s Top 100, there are some takeaways and trends to consider.
Lockheed Martin again is ranked No. 1. Defense News’ data back to the 2003 list shows Lockheed Martin has consistently held that position. The ratio of its defense revenue to the No. 2 contractor listed, which for fiscal 2021 was Raytheon Technologies, was 1.5, which is slightly more than the 2003-2020 average of 1.4.
Barring another major merger or acquisition deal among the other top 10 contractors, or even a breakup of Lockheed Martin, it’s difficult to see how organic sales growth alone could knock Lockheed from it’s top position anytime soon.
Total FY21 defense revenue of the Top 100 is $595 billion, up 9% from the total FY20 defense revenue on this latest list. Of the approximate $53 billion increase, Chinese defense contractors accounted for $19 billion.
Twenty-two of the firms listed experienced negative comparisons of defense revenue on FY21 compared to FY20, but some of those declines can be explained by divestitures of defense operations. Similarly, acquisitions also contributed to defense revenue growth at BAE Systems, Leidos and Peraton, among others.
The Boeing defense revenue increase of about $2.7 billion stands out because the company reported $26.5 billion in 2021 revenue for its Defense, Space and Security segment. In 2020, it reported $26.3 billion in revenue for this segment. Boeing does not report defense and commercial revenue in its Global Services segment, so it must have had a much stronger defense contribution in FY21 than FY20.
The data shows that globally, the contractors are fragmented. That may not be the case in individual country markets where there are national champions and some segments are more concentrated than others. The top 10 contractors for FY21 accounted for 52% of defense revenue for the Top 100. That’s a bit lower than the average of 56% reported in the 2003-2020 data sets.
There has most certainly been consolidation, notably in the U.S. sector, but then there are new emerging global competitors and national champions. South Korea’s defense contractors are more active in markets outside of Asia, and this has been underscored by recent defense sales announced to Poland. The inclusion of Polish Armaments Group and Saudi Arabian Military Industries are other manifestations of this trend.
For all the focus on defense innovation and the emphasis on broadening defense-industrial bases, a glaring absence of the list are new entrants. Possibly, SpaceX could be included, but while there are some U.S. defense “unicorns” with $1 billion valuations, their sales are still far below the $600 million level that’s the entry threshold to the Top 100.
It’s probable that the Top 100 will see larger defense revenue figures in FY22 and beyond. Defense spending growth in Europe, the U.S. and Asia is increasing, and so too will contractor sales. Mega defense mergers are unlikely, particularly in the U.S., given the Biden administration’s focus on competition, and action on the Lockheed Martin-Aerojet Rocketdyne merger signaled tougher stances on vertical integration.
However, smaller deals are likely to continue, and so there could be more churn in the lower 50 of the Top 100. The largest contractors will likely continue to assess their optimal portfolio mixes, and divestitures will continue.
Byron Callan is managing director at Capital Alpha Partners, an independent research firm.