The global light weapons market size was 14.16 billion in 2022. It is estimated to reach an expected value of USD 20.87 billion by 2031, registering a CAGR of 4.40% during the forecast period (2023-2031).
Over the past few years, modern battlefields are continuously changing, leading to the constant need for the enhancement of military equipment that will aid the infantry troops for combat and non-combat purposes. With the growing geographical tensions and border disputes around the world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East and African regions, governments are increasing their defense budgets annually to invest robustly into the modernization of armed forces' inventory of weapons by replacement of aging equipment with advanced weapons and ammunition. The ability of light weapons to penetrate and incapacitate opponents with heavy armor is projected to drive up demand for them.
The structure of international security systems has been damaged by the expanding hegemonism, unilateralism, and power politics that have fueled multiple global crises due to the dramatic changes in the international strategic landscape. Territorial disputes between several nations, such as the Middle East Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran and tensions along India and China's frontiers, are among the main factors upsetting the geopolitical environment. Governments' most frequent response in this regard is to raise military spending to boost security in their nations.
The global military expenditure was 7.2% higher in 2019 than in 2010. The rate of growth of military spending accelerated in recent years. The United States, China, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia had the highest military expenditures in the world in 2019. According to SIPRI, they accounted for 62% of global spending. Military superpowers, including the US, UK, China, and India, have improved their offensive and defensive capabilities. To successfully modernize the powers of the regional armed forces to respond to security threats and carry out urgent, critical, and risky strategic tasks, several weapon purchase initiatives are presently in motion. This is done to ensure the combat readiness of the existing defense systems.
The colossal budgets have provisions for procuring several infantry weapons and the R&D of new weapon systems to engage hostile forces and neutralize threats. With the increasing military budgets and urbanization of the battlefield, the governments are undertaking initiatives to modernize the armory with light weapons that will enhance the maneuverability of the dismounted soldiers on the battlefield. Such modernization programs are expected to propel the growth of the light weapons market during the forecast period.
Over the years modern warfare has been changing drastically over the past few years. The battlefield is shifting from borders and mountains to an urban area with high population density. It is expected that more than 50 million civilians are expected to be affected due to urban warfare globally. Urban warfare has been witnessing significant growth over the past few years due to major factors like the global trend toward urbanization, increasingly volatile domestic political conditions in developing countries, and changes in the character of armed conflict.
Over the past few years, the cities of Iraq, Belarus, Ukraine, Mexico, and the Philippines, among others, have witnessed an increase in urban warfare due to various conflicts between armed forces, rebel groups, and drug cartels. Also, multiple countries are currently involved in different military tensions in the Middle East & African region, including major military superpowers like the United States and Russia. Due to this, the countries are working on strengthening their capabilities for urban warfare operations as they will require the armed forces to perform tactical actions, such as precision engagement, minimizing collateral damage, small unit actions, as well as protecting the population, which is one of the significant factors in case of urban warfare conditions. Under these conditions, the armed forces will be a requirement for advanced weaponry and precision guidance ammunition that will directly hit the target with minimal collateral damage. This is a requirement of particular ammunition and weapon systems by the armed forces, which are expected to generate demand for the market.
The development of organized crime, terrorism, human trafficking, and piracy, among other things, is caused by the growing availability of light weapons on the black market. These activities constitute a security threat to a nation's integrity. Weapon stockpiles play a significant role in illegally circling shoulder-fired weapons such as mortars and anti-materiel rifles. According to Conflict Armament Research, one of the considerable reasons for illicit arms traffic is the failure of the government to secure weapons against theft and looting, which are then sold to rebel, insurgent, and terrorist forces.
The unlawful sales of weapons challenge law enforcement organizations and national governments on the dark web. Dark webs are those regions of hidden international networks that criminals and other sorts of people regularly use to buy or sell weapons and related things through encrypted marketplaces and vendor shops. The high level of anonymity enabled by the dark web makes identifying and linking individuals to specific activities extremely challenging. Such actions result in losing business prospects and potential revenue for the weapon and ammunition manufacturers by tampering with their credibility and association with peacekeeping forces.
With the evolution of aerial threats (from aircraft as well as UAVs) and armored vehicles (from tanks, armored fighting vehicles, etc.), the armed forces are investing in developing advanced weapon systems that are more destructive and intercept targets at higher ranges compared to the current existing light weapon systems. Due to the changing battlefield requirements, the governments, in collaboration with light weapon manufacturers, deploy advanced weapons to identify, track and accurately hit the target more effectively.
To enhance the accuracy of the weapon systems, new weapon sights are also being developed, which can be integrated into the light weapons to increase the aim and accuracy of the weapon systems. The companies are also developing new lightweight versions of the currently deployed weapon systems using advanced material technologies and the latest manufacturing technologies. For instance, China developed and deployed a new ultra-light grenade launcher in the People's Liberation Army in September 2020, approximately 10 kg compared to the QLZ-04 launcher. The grenade launcher is currently deployed to support the grassroots troops and is expected to be deployed in the plateau areas. The launcher is a full 20 kilograms lighter based on the Type 04 grenade launcher (weight of 24 kg). Such developments are envisioned to enhance the effectiveness of new light weapon systems and related equipment and bolster their adoption, resulting in a parallel demand for compatible ammunition during the forecast period.
The global light weapons market is segmented by type, technology, and region.
By type, the global market is segmented into Heavy Machine Guns (HMGs), Grenades and Grenade Launchers, Mortars, Man-portable Anti-tank Systems (MANPATS), Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), and Other Types.
The Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) segment dominated the market and is estimated to register a CAGR of 7.6% during the forecast period. Man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) are relatively lightweight, short-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems designed to engage low-flying aircraft, especially helicopters. The advancement in aerial attack technology led to the development of systems capable of defending their assets against such aerial threats. These systems, known as air defense systems, form an integral part of any military in today's world. Some countries are replacing their existing MANPADS with newer generation MANPADS to counter the growing aerial threat capabilities. For instance, the US Army is currently seeking a replacement for its Raytheon FIM-92 Stinger short-range air-defense (SHORAD) surface-to-air missile (SAM) system that has been in the US Army inventory since the early 1980s. According to the RFI released in November 2020, the US Army is planning to award a full and open competitive contract no later than FY 2026 to produce up to 8,000 MANPADS missiles. The factors mentioned above will propel the growth of the MANPADS segment during the forecast period.
By technology, the global market is segmented into guided and unguided. The guided segment is further segmented into a laser-guided, infrared-guided, satellite-guided, and semi-automatic command line of sight.
The guided segment dominated the market and is estimated to register a CAGR of 8.8% during the forecast period. Laser guidance can be found in MANPADS, MANPATS, and certain 120mm mortars. The US Army was looking for a 120 mm high explosive guided mortar in 2017 to replace the APMI, or accelerated precision mortar initiative, which is the current precision guided HE mortar. The new mortars will have a semi-active laser, an independent targeting mode that uses laser designation, whereas APSR is GPS-guided. This will provide the mortar with two ways to lead it to its intended target. It will boost accuracy by guiding the round to its target with a laser beam. The main benefit is that the mortar may be able to adjust its course while in flight to hit a moving target. Thus, as more countries currently operating guided missiles shift toward laser-guided ammunition, the segment will experience significant growth.
By region, the global light weapons market is segmented into North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and LAMEA.
North America accounted for the largest market share and is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 6.7% during the forecast period. The market is driven by the procurement of advanced weaponry by the US Armed Forces to achieve military dominance in the region, besides ensuring internal peace and security. To effectively engage armored targets, the US Army is fielding new variants of MANPADS and MANPATS weaponry. On this note, in September 2019, the US DoD awarded a USD 185.6 million contract to Lockheed-Raytheon JV to support full-rate production of the Javelin launcher system. The contract is scheduled to be finished by August 2023. Defense contractors are teaming up for developing advanced weapon systems to address the evolving complex battlefield requirements. On this note, since November 2017, Raytheon Corporation and Saab AB have collaborated on developing new weapons for the US Army. In the early phases of this collaborative effort, the team focused on upgrading the Carl-Gustaf M4 multi-role, a man-portable shoulder-fired weapon, and enhancing Saab AB's AT4 disposable weapon system to fulfill the near-term requirements of the US Army and other international clientele. The collaboration improved the portability of the weapon by reducing the weight of the latest version of the weapon, the M4/M3E1, from 22 pounds to 15 pounds. Such developments are anticipated to render a favorable outlook for the US light weapons market during the forecast period.
Asia-Pacific is the second largest region. It is registering a CAGR of 7.3%. The Chinese MoD has undertaken an extensive approach to modernize each aspect of combat. Hence, it is actively developing new weapons to enhance the current capabilities of its armed forces. China North Industries Corporation (Norinco) has been focusing on increasing the production and sales of domestically manufactured armored vehicles. In 2016, the company developed a 6x6 VN2C mine-resistant vehicle, like its earlier WMZ-551 APC, armed with 12.7 mm and 762 mm MGs, eight electrically operated grenade launchers, and space for additional turrets. In 2017, Norinco demonstrated a new vehicle similar to the company's VT-5 light tank. VN-17 offers a remote turret, two multi-lens EO/IR sensors, a 35mm cannon, and a 7.62mm MG or medium-range HJ-12 anti-tank missile launcher. Such developments drive the market in China during the forecast period.
Europe is the third largest region. Recently, Germany is adopting Puma IFVs to replace the aging Marder IFVs in service. The production of the first batch of Puma IFVs began in 2010, and Germany had plans to procure about 350 units by 2020. Earlier in July 2017, ARTEC was awarded a contract by Germany for the modernization of its fleet of 246 Boxer vehicles. The complete fleet of Boxer vehicles will be retrofitted to A2 standard. Also, in November 2019, Germany awarded a multi-year contract to Euro spike, a joint venture between Rafael, Diehl Defence GmbH, and Rheinmetall Electronics GmbH, for 1,500 Spike missiles and hundreds of Integrated Control Launch Unit dismounted missile launchers. The contract entails local manufacturing of the Spike missiles and launchers. Also, in December 2019, the German Armed Forces awarded a contract to MBDA Inc. to acquire the Enforcer MANPAT. Such developments may render a positive outlook for the German light weapons market during the forecast period.
The key players in the global light weapons market are
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