MAKICHUK: Guide to the free world's merchants of war

Northrop Grumman's B-21 Raider is unveiled in Palmdale.
Northrop Grumman's B-21 Raider is unveiled in Palmdale.Northrop Grumman

They are the biggest military firms in the free world — the merchants of war.

They dominate arms sales, involving billions and billions of dollars. Dollars governments are only too willing to spend. Especially on the heels of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin did more for the US economy, and the EU as well, than he possibly knows. But let’s halt the celebrations for now.

The size of the so-called military industrial complex didn’t really hit me, until I attended Eurosatory in Paris.

The biggest arms show in the world, it had something like 1,700 exhibitors. And it did not include the Chinese or the Russians.

Imagine, four Wal-Marts strung together with every weapon known to man. There really is nothing like it and it’s too bad ordinary citizens cannot attend.

Military brass, potential customers, exhibitor staff and media only. And getting accreditation is not an easy thing. You don’t get in without a reason to get in.

So let’s have a look at some of these influential military firms, in no particular order, who are they and what do they do?

Lockheed Martin:

By far, the biggest of them all is Lockheed Martin. Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems.

From Rosie the Riveter of the Second World War to the amazing creations of the secretive Skunk Works®, the company boasts more than a century of innovation.

According to the company website, aircraft created by the company include the U2 Dragon Lady, the F-117 Nighthawk, the SR-71 Blackbird, the Black Hawk helicopter, the F-22 Raptor and the current F-35 Lightning.

Each one of those aircraft is legendary in its own way. Lockheed Martin is also bidding on the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) contract along with Boeing.

Despite racking up a total year-over-year cost of US$1.7 trillion, coming on stream 10 years late and 80% over budget, the F-35 could be one of the Pentagon’s biggest success stories as far as sales go.

F-35s are used across NATO, but also by the US, the UK, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Belgium, Poland and Singapore.

Even the stingy and peace-loving Canadians have bought in.

Northrup Grumman:

Founded in California in 1939 by Jack Northrop, the Northrop Corporation was reincorporated in Delaware in 1985.

After the end of the Cold War, Northrop made a series of acquisitions, buying Grumman Aerospace, Westinghouse and TRW Inc. in addition to a number of other enterprises.

It serves as the prime contractor for the B-2 stealth bomber fleet for the USAF and has just started producing the B-21 Raider.

The B-21 team includes more than 8,000 personnel from Northrop Grumman, industry partners and the Air Force, with more than 400 suppliers across 40 states.

It is the prime contractor for the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, an advanced airborne surveillance and target-acquisition system supplied to the US Air Force and US Army.

It also makes military radar systems, including airborne fire-control and early-warning radars; electronic countermeasures systems; the E-2C Hawkeye early-warning aircraft; and unmanned drone and decoy aircraft.

During the Vietnam war, it also produced the highly successful A6-E Intruder — the first aircraft to serve in combat operations in any weather, day or night.

Raytheon (Now RTX Corp.):

Raytheon's electronics and defence-systems units produce air, sea, and land-launched missiles, aircraft radar systems, weapons sights and targeting systems, communication and battle-management systems and satellite components.

It gained fame for being involved in a 1990s controversy when it was accused of attempting to bribe Brazilian officials to secure deals for their radar systems.

Among its crowning achievements is the Patriot Missile System.

The MIM-104 Patriot is the US Army's primary air and missile defence system. While initially designed as an antiaircraft system, newer variants of Patriot are capable of engaging ballistic and cruise missiles, loitering munitions and aircraft.


L3Harris Technologies describes itself as an agile global aerospace and defence technology innovator. The company provides advanced defence and commercial technologies across air, land, sea, space and cyber domains.

It describes itself as the 'Trusted Disruptor' for new military aircraft integration, setting the bar as a premier manufacturer and provider of electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) imaging capabilities for the most advanced airborne platforms.

L3Harris also received the Jack Donnelly Award for excellence in counterintelligence. This award recognizes organizations that demonstrate the ability to stop foreign theft of U.S. defence and national security technology.

Rheinmetall AG:

Düsseldorf based Rheinmetall is an integrated technology group that manufactures automotive and defence equipment. The company's automotive product portfolio includes actuators, plain bearings, pumps, castings and solenoid valves.

Among the track armoured vehicles it designs and builds, are the Leopard main battle tank, Panther KF51 main battle tank, Puma infantry fighting vehicle, Marder infantry fighting vehicle and Büffel armoured recovery vehicle.

Leonardo SpA: Headquartered in Rome, Italy, Leonardo offers cyber security solutions, land vehicles, land and sea weapon systems, radar systems, aircraft, missile systems and underwater systems.

In addition, the company operates through subsidiaries and joint ventures, including DRS Technologies Group, Telespazio Group, Thales Alenia Space Group, MBDA Group missile systems, GIE ATR regional aircraft and Sistemi Dinamici SpA.

The venerable B-52 is still flying.
The venerable B-52 is still flying.USAF photo


During the Second World War, Boeing and its partners worked together to produce a staggering 98,965 aircraft, including the famed B-17 Flying Fortress.

Defence, Space & Security is one of the Boeing company’s three business units, according to business reports.

One of the world’s largest defence and space contractors, BDS is a global leader in the development, production, maintenance and enhancement of fixed-wing and rotary wing aircraft, satellites, spaceflight programs and weapons.

Among them, the AH-64 Apache helicopter, the E-7 Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft, the B-1B Lancer, air & missile defence and, the venerable B-52, which is still flying after having celebrated its 50th anniversary.


For defence-related business, Airbus is one of the world's leading manufacturers of military transport aircraft and plays a leading role in the twin-jet Eurofighter combat aircraft.

Airbus is also the exclusive provider of ballistic missiles used in the French nuclear arsenal.

Headquartered in the Netherlands, it has its main production facilities in Germany, France and Spain. It is involved in the commercial aircraft, helicopter, defence, security and space sectors.

The Airbus H175M is a military version of Airbus Helicopters’ H175 super-medium-weight, twin-engine civil rotorcraft and it is one of the contenders for the UK Ministry of Defence’s New Medium Helicopter requirement.

New technology includes the Zephyr, a sustainable, solar powered, ISR high-altitude platform station aircraft that can fly at 76,000 ft. for weeks at a time.

General Dynamics:

General Dynamics is a global aerospace and defence company. From Gulfstream business jets and combat vehicles to nuclear-powered submarines and communications systems, people around the world depend on its products and services for safety and security.

It also manufactures Abrams tanks, Stryker fighting vehicles, ASCOD fighting vehicles such as the Spanish PIZARRO and British AJAX, LAV-25 Light Armored Vehicles and Flyer-60 lightweight tactical vehicles.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter was built by the General Dynamics (now part of the Lockheed Martin) for the US and more than a dozen other countries.

Sources say it will see action with the Ukraine Air Force in 2024.

BAE Systems:

BAE Systems Military Air & Information is a business unit of British defence company BAE Systems. It is a global company engaged in the development and delivery of advanced defence, aerospace, security and information technology systems in the air, on the land and at sea and it employs more than 88,000 people worldwide.

It designs, manufactures, upgrades and supports combat vehicles and provide ammunition, precision munitions, artillery systems and missile launchers.

Honorable mention(s):

Sweden’s SAAB AB, France’s Dassault Aviation and Safran SA, Israel’s Elbit Systems, Turkey’s Aselsan and America’s Bell Helicopter are all significant contributors in the world's defence sector.

The Airbus H175M Task Force helicopter.
The Airbus H175M Task Force helicopter.Airbus

Related Stories

No stories found.
Western Standard