ArmsTradeWatch - an introduction

On this blog we will publish about ArmsTradeWatch and research projects using our database, done ourselves or by others. Further we will provide news about other interesting research on arms trade, experiences and reflections on data research, point to interesting data sources and methods to use them, and so on. If you like to stay updated, you can register for our mailing list.

In this first text we introduce ArmsTradeWatch, a new data project to map out the European arms industry and arms trade. This database provides an inventory of companies in Europe active on the defense market or exporting arms.

The EU publishes each year arms export statistics, containing global figures about the amount of export licences given by its member states. Only specification is the category of goods according to its Military List of goods under export control and the country of destination. The actual companies and goods behind these figures remains unknown, although some member countries do specify companies in their annual reports. You can find the EU reports on the website of the European External Action Service. Another, more accessible view on this data is the ENAAT Data browser, originally developed by CAAT.


Which companies are behind these figures? Which companies form the European defense industry?

While several researchers and NGOs have mapped or inventarised the defense industry in their country, we are missing a European view on this industry. However such view is needed, especially since the supply chains in this industry are becoming more international. Also the defense industry has to a large extent been restructuring and merging into larger conglomerates over the last 20 years. Further, when using a country-based focus we notice that information on the actual trade diminished after the liberalisation of the EU internal defense market with the Directive 2009/43/EC on transfers of defence-related products. To restore a view on this trade, and where military goods end up, we need to restore our view on supply chains and connections between companies.


ArmsTradeWatch is a data project with the aim to find answers on this questions. To enable investigative research, ArmsTradeWatch brings the available data together about the European arms industry and makes it more accessible. Arms trade leaves traces in a range of statistics and sources, not the least because the main clients are governments. We used data on export licences, procurement and tender data and data from industrial interest groups to make a comprehensive inventory of the European defense industry. The database we publish now is a first version, which we hope to further develop and improve with feedback from other researchers and journalists.


Please keep in mind that this is a trial version. We hope it is a useful resource, but all information needs to be checked before using to make strong claims. To clarify this, a bit more explanation on the difficulties which the use of these sources entail. None of these sources is ‘wrong’ of ‘fake’, but all data is collected or produced in its own context and for its own purpose. Automated collection can therefore entail interpretations which are not completely justified. Specifically this concerns the question if a company indeed produces or supplies military goods or services under export control, and if all such companies have been covered. Similarly, when using this data care has to be taken to assure that correct interpretations are made.


To map the European arms industry using these data sources we first needed to address the question how to delineate or define what are arms and what is the defense industry? In this project we focus on goods present on the EU Military List. The EU and national arms export reports cover export licences of goods on this list. It is based on the Wassenaar Arrangement, which forms the common base of export control regimes in the EU but also the US and other countries. This list is also more comprehensive than the goods covered by the Arms Trade Treaty register or other arms export control regimes. That means we take the goods as defining criterion and not the clients.

Another option would have been to consider every company which sells goods or services to the military as part of the defense industry. However, this would have included a range of companies for which the military is only an occasional or minor client or which produce goods or services which have no specific military purpose or qualifications. Our concern is more public accountability about military goods produced in the EU, not about the food bought for soldiers. Therefore this option was not chosen and we made some effort to be more selective. However, the data sources used do not allow us to precisely filter on goods present on the EU Military List and the selection of companies will therefore be broader.


Further, none of our original sources have the goal to provide an inventory of the arms industry, but cover a wider or different area. Therefore some companies present in the database are not involved in arms production or arms trade as such, but ended up in the data sources for other reasons. Even arms export licence data can contain civilian companies: press agencies which obtained an export licence to transfer protective clothing for their journalists, movie producers or museums which obtained demilitarized tanks or other equipment, ...

The categories of procurement statistics are often too coarse to make an exact match with the ML categories. Compared to the US procurement data, EU tender data is even more coarse, while in general being less comprehensive in coverage. We used CPV353-357 as selection criterium, as these categories covers mostly military goods. However, this problem exists also for the NATO Supply Classification Group (NSCG) categories used by NATO armies. These categories cover everything an army acquires, including goods and services which have no specific military use but a more general one. We have therefore made a selection of relevant NSCG codes, based on combining the UK and Italian data on arms exports licenses (which contains ML categories) with US procurement data covering the same companies (and which contains NSCG categories). Only companies linked to these NSCG categories were included. However, this remains an approximation. It is possible that companies producing military goods were missed, while non-defense companies got included. We want to refine our selection through crowdsourcing the expertise of other researchers and the feedback of users.

An extra problem with using the US procurement data to map the European defense industry is that it has a strong regional bias. For example Eastern Europe is not very present in this dataset. A version for the whole NATO of this data exists as the NATO Master Catalogue of References for Logistics (NMCRL), but is not available as open data. Partly this regional bias could be addressed as some of the countries concerned provide in their arms reports the companies which received export licences or have a public register of companies licensed to produce military material. To address these problems we also used the membership lists of industrial organisations of the defense industry to enlarge our inventory. Again, this method has its own problems as these organisations sometimes include the civilian aerospace industry as well.

However, by combining all these sources we think to have established a comprehensive inventory of the European arms industry. This inventory can be searched by choosing the ‘Defense companies from sources’ option in the search form. And we invite other researchers and journalists to both use and check this data and to help us refine this dataset through their feedback.


This inventory of the arms industry has been enlarged by adding known subsidiaries and shareholders, which can be searched by using the other options. This information can be useful to map out supply chains or for other investigations, but again it means that subsidiaries and shareholders which are themselves not active on the defense market are present in the dataset. We invite your feedback to help us to make a more refined selection.

Also this information about subsidiaries and shareholders is limited to what we could obtain from public sources, like annual accounts and the LEI register (for more information, see the Sources page). Annual accounts were manually checked for the large industrial conglomerates, while information about Belgian companies were obtained from In the future we would like to scrape more public resources with annual accounts for information about subsidiaries (consolidated in these accounts). Any reference to additional public resources and information on group structures is very welcome!


The goal of this project is to enable investigative journalism and research into this industry, in order to improve public accountability of this industry and government policy. The coming year we will ourselves conduct and publish some investigations using this data. This to show how it can be used. But we hope in the first place that this database provides investigative journalists and researchers with an extra tool to conduct their own investigations. Let us know how you made use of this data and how we can make it more useful!