House of Commons Library

UK Defence Industry Exports

Published Tuesday, May 15, 2018

This briefing paper provides an overview of UK defence industry exports covering the three main sources of data on the subject. The paper looks at trends over time, the regions of the world where UK defence exports are going, and the type of goods that are being exported.

Jump to full report >>

There is no internationally agreed definition of what constitutes as a defence or arms export, or how they should be measured. There are several sources for data on the arms industry, with each focusing on a slightly different element: 

The annual Department for International Trade DSO UK defence and security exports publication is based on a survey of UK defence companies and covers orders for defence services, support and equipment.

The quarterly Department for International Trade ECO strategic export controls licensing data publication measures the number and value of licences issued for the export of strategic goods. 

The SIPRI arms transfer database maintains global data on the volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons.

According to the DIT DSO, the total value of UK defence exports in 2016 was £5.9 billion. Nearly half of the UK's exports went to the Middle East. Exports to North America accounted for around 23%. Between 2007 and 2016 the UK was the world's second largest defence exporter.

UK defence exports by region

According to the DIT ECO, the total value of Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELs) granted by the DIT ECO was £8.3 billion. The vast majority of the value of these licences were for military graded goods - i.e. licences for military goods such as assualt rifles and combat aircraft. Overall, around 11,000 SIEL licences were granted in 2017. Around £1.1 billion worth of licences were granted for goods to be exported to Saudi Arabia.

SIEL value and count

This paper provides an overview UK defence exports over time, the regions of the world where UK defence exports are going, and the type of goods that are being exported. The downloadable Excel file provides additional information specifically on SIELs - it shows the count and value of licences granted by the DIT ECO between 2008 and 2017 by the end user destination and type of licence.


Commons Briefing papers CBP-8310

Author: Noel Dempsey

Topic: Arms control

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.