France is challenging Russia’s position as the world’s second biggest arms exporter behind the US, while Britain’s share of the global market has dwindled, an analysis has found.
A steep increase in sales and future orders of arms to countries in Asia, Oceania and the Middle East over the last five years suggests French suppliers could surpass their Russian rivals within a decade.
France’s share of global defence exports stood at 11% in the period 2018-22, up from 7.1% in 2013-17 – a 44% increase. India, Qatar and Egypt were the biggest clients.
At the same time, Russia’s share of the world’s arms exports fell by 31% – from nearly a quarter of all sales (22%) in the five years to 2017 down to 16% over the last five years.
The collapse in Russian exports occurred in the last three years, with sales to China and Egypt, two of its biggest markets, coming under pressure, according to an analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
Russia’s near-pariah status among some countries in the lead-up to and following its full invasion of Ukraine in February last year appears to have been a major drag on exports, along with growing Chinese self-sufficiency.
“It is likely that order volumes from these two states will reduce in the coming years,” say the authors of the Sipri report, entitled Trends in International Arms Transfers. “Egypt, for example, cancelled a large order for combat aircraft in 2022, probably due to pressure from the USA, and China is becoming less reliant on Russian imports as it ramps up domestic production of advanced major arms.
“The low volume of pending deliveries of major arms from Russia indicates that its arms exports are likely to continue to drop in the coming years.”
The report adds: “Combat aircraft and combat helicopters have been among Russia’s main arms exports since 1992. It delivered a total of 328 of these in 2018–22, which accounted for 40% of Russian arms exports in the period.
“By the end of 2022, it had pending deliveries for only 84 combat aircraft and combat helicopters. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will probably put additional constraints on Russia’s ability to export arms, as it is likely to prioritise the production of arms for its own military over those for export.”
Russia has been the world’s second biggest arms exporter for at least three decades, the sale of combat helicopters and aircraft being the mainstay of its defence industry.
Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at Sipri and one of the report’s authors, said France could nudge ahead, given the activism of the French state in expanding its defence sector and the impact of western sanctions and diplomatic efforts on Russia following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Wezeman said: “France has seen a steep increase in arms exports in terms of deliveries. At the same time, the French arms industry, supported by the French government, has succeeded in signing more large deals for arms exports, with deliveries planned over [the] coming years.
“France has considerably more major arms on order for export than Russia, which suggests that it is possible that in the coming decade French arms exports will be in the same order of magnitude, or even larger than those of Russia.”
The UK’s defence sector has failed to seal deals with key partners such as Saudi Arabia in recent years, leading to its arms exports contracting by over a third (35%), reducing the country’s global share of arms exports from 4.7% between 2013 and 2017 to just 3.2% in 2018-22.
Wezeman said: “Saudi Arabia had been the largest recipient of UK arms in the previous two five-year periods, before 2018-2022, but very few Saudi orders for major arms from the UK are currently in place.
“In 2020, there was still talk about plans for an order for 48 Typhoon combat aircraft, but that deal seems to have stalled in the years after.
The five largest defence exporters are the US, Russia, France, China and Germany, which account for over three-quarters (76%) of all arms exports.
The US remains the world’s superpower in arms sales – and is building on its role. Its exports grew by 14% in 2013-17 and 2018-22 and its share of total global arms exports rose from 33% to 40%.
Just under half of those sales (41%) went to the Middle East, but the US delivered major arms to 103 states in the last five-year period, almost as many as the next two biggest exporters combined.
Ukraine became a major importer of arms in 2018-22. It was the 14th largest arms importer globally in the period and the third largest in 2022. The five largest arms importers in 2018-22 were India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Australia and China.
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