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The pandemic doesn’t seem to have affected the global demand for weapons, according to a new report, which reveals the defense industry’s top 100 companies made $531 billion in 2020 – 1.3% more than in the previous year.

Arms sales have been steadily growing for six consecutive years, and the economic hurdles caused by Covid-19 couldn’t reverse this trend, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) pointed out on Monday.

“The industry giants were largely shielded by sustained government demand for military goods and services,” with some countries even accelerating payments to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, Alexandra Marksteiner from SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Program said.

The US maintained its lead in the sector in 2020. There were 41 American companies on the list, with five of them occupying the top five spots since 2018. The total earnings of US arms manufacturers last year reached $285 billion, growing by 1.9% compared to 2019.

Chinese firms took second place, with total earnings of $66.8 billion, or 13% of the global arms sales in 2020. SIPRI attributed this success to Beijing’s military modernization program, which turned the local defense companies into “some of the most advanced military technology producers in the world.”

The 26 European weapons manufacturers showed “mixed results” last year, according to the Swedish researcher. The UK came third overall after China, with its seven companies in the Top 100 making $37.5 billion, which was a 6.2% increase from 2019. German firms saw their profits growing by 1.3% and reaching $8.9 billion, while the sales of their French counterparts fell by 7.7%.

The downward trend that began in 2018 continued for Russian arms manufacturers last year, the report claimed. The country’s nine companies in the Top 100 saw their sales decline from $28.2 billion in 2019 to $26.4 billion.

The setback could be explained by the conclusion of the State Armament Program 2011–20 and the diversification of the Russian defense industry, as firms were tasked with increasing their share of civilian sales to 50% by 2030, the authors said. They didn’t mention sanctions and pressure by Washington on countries that are looking to buy Russian-made arms among the possible reasons.

The reports by SIPRI “can’t be considered an objective source of information,” Russian military-industrial conglomerate Rostec said in response to the new figures.

“The Western analysts only rely on open sources and are unaware of the real picture,” it said in a statement. SIPRI also neglects the fact that most of the payments for Russian arms are being made in rubles, not dollars, while only being focused on profits, instead of counting the actual number of units sold.

Rostec’s earnings are steadily growing every year and production levels remain high, the statement insisted.

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