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The UK Government stated its commitment to increasing defence exports in its refreshed Defence Command Paper, published in July 2023.

The Government does not publish exact figures on defence exports (commonly referred to as arms exports). There is also no internationally agreed definition of defence exports or how they should best be measured.

Instead, data is published on orders for defence items won by UK companies and on export licences issued by the UK government. These are published by organisations which form part of the Department for Business and Trade: UK Defence & Security Exports (UK DSE) and the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU).

Orders won by UK defence companies

Based on UK DSE estimates, the UK won defence orders worth £12.0 billion in real terms in 2022. This is a £4.6 billion increase on the previous year.

UK defence exports are dominated by its aerospace sector. This accounted for 68% of the total value of UK defence exports over the five-year period from 2018 to 2022.

The Middle East was the largest market for UK defence exports, accounting for 43% of total exports over this period, followed by Europe (22%), North America (19%), the Asia Pacific (6%), Latin America and Africa (both 1%). The remaining share (8%) was exported to a mixed or unidentified region.

Licences granted for export

The ECJU administers licences for the export of strategic goods from the UK, which includes goods for military-use and dual-use (goods that can be used for civil or military applications). The most common type of licence issued are permanent Standard Individual Exports Licences (SIELs).

In 2022, the UK Government issued 13,200 SIELs, of which 11,100 (84%) were for permanent exports.

The total value of SIELs issued was £70.6 billion in real terms (at 2023 prices). Around £9.1 billion (13%) of this was for military goods and £61.4 billion (87%) for non-military goods.

This is the highest value recorded since this series began in 2008, and six times the value of SIELs issued the previous year (£11.7 billion).

SIPRI’s Arms Transfer Database

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has developed its own unit of measurement to measure the volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons: the trend indicator value (TIV). The TIV of an item is intended to reflect its military capability rather than its financial value.

When measured in TIV, the UK was the seventh largest exporter of major convention weapons between 2018 and 2022 (behind the US, Russia, France, China, Germany and Italy).

Over this five-year period, aircraft were the UK’s main arms export, making up around a third (32%) of total TIV.

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