While the United States is by far the most dominant military force in history, it is American industrial prowess that ultimately enables Washington to conduct operations around the globe. With the ability to build the world’s best ships, submarines, aircraft, missiles, tanks and bombs, the United States would not be able to conduct its mission to build a benign international security environment where commerce and democracy can thrive. Though sometimes criticized by those on the left of the political spectrum, it is big defense contractors who build the weapons that U.S. forces need to do their duty.
In no particular order, here are the five of the most prominent defense contractors that build the arsenal of democracy.
The biggest defense contractor by far is Lockheed Martin , which employs approximately 98,000 people worldwide with sales topping $46.1 Billion in 2015. The company build the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F-16. But Lockheed is more than just airframer, it builds the Aegis combat system—the heart of both the Ticonderoga-class cruiser and Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. It also builds the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) and the PAC-3 missiles for the Patriot among a host of other systems.
A diverse company, General Dynamics builds a host of defense products ranging from aircraft to tanks to destroyers and submarines. With 2014 revenues topping 35 billion and nearly 100,000 employees, General Dynamics is a colossus. Its most important defense products are the M1A2 Abrams, the Stryker family of vehicles, the Virginia-class attack submarine and the Ohio Replacement Program ballistic missile submarine . It also builds the DDG-51 and DDG-1000-class destroyers .
Northrop Grumman is primarily an aerospace company—but it also builds intelligence systems, cyberwarfare systems and mission systems like radars and electronic warfare systems. It builds some of the most important U.S. defense systems. The 60,000 employee company—with revenues of $23.5 billion—is under contract to develop and build the B-21 Raider stealth bomber—building upon its previous work on the B-2 Spirit. It also builds significant parts of the F-35 and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
One of America’s great industrial gems, Boeing is the world's largest aerospace company. It’s a leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space and security systems. It builds the AH-64 Apache helicopter, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G electronic attack aircraft, KC-46 aerial refueling aircraft and the P-8 anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare aircraft among other products. It employs over 160,000 people and has revenues topping $96 billion.
Raytheon is a technology and innovation juggernaut specializing in defense and cybersecurity solutions. The company provides state-of-the-art electronics, mission systems integration, capabilities in command, control, communications, computing, cyber and intelligence (C5I), mission support services in addition to its other capabilities. Raytheon is particularly well regarded for its radars, jammer and missiles—such as the AIM-120, AIM-9X and Standard SM-6. It has 61,000 employees worldwide and $23 billion in 2015 revenues.
Dave Majumdar is the Defense Editor for The National Interest. You can follow him You on Twitter: @DaveMajumdar.