A Perspective on the Global Missile Market: 2024

By Debalina Ghoshal

The burgeoning global missile market is one of the most lucrative markets existing around the world.

Not just the erstwhile super powers, but in the recent times, most developing states have felt the necessity to possess missiles as tools of prestige and power and for coercive diplomacy by strengthening their combat and deterrent capability through technological advancements.

Developing states aim to acquire/develop short range missile systems that could act as both tactical as well strategic missiles given the geographic proximity. They also venture into medium and intermediate range missile system.

With advancements in missile technologies and space launch vehicles (SLVs), developing states could possess Intercontinental Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capabilities too. States have also focused on cruise missile technology for combat as well as deterrence-both conventional and weapons and mass destruction (WMD).

As demand for missile systems increase, missile markets flourish but such markets form a trend that becomes distinct.

General Perspective

The upward and downward trend in missile market is reliant on a state’s ‘security dilemma’ arising from its security environment. As long as anarchy exists, both ballistic and cruise missiles remain imperative to a state’s security dynamics.

However, it is also reliant on a state’s desire to exploit economic opportunities for strengthened economy. The growth of the missile market is also dependent on the deterrent value the state attaches to its missile capabilities and the relevance a state gives to its missile program as a combat asset.

It is also affected by the prestige and ego factor that states attach to missile systems. The desire to possess technologically advanced missiles not only creates demand for missile systems but also for related technologies that could enable states to possess advanced missile systems.

Non State Actors

The trends in the missile market are not only dominated by state actors, but non-state actors also determine the trends. Asymmetric groups acquire missile capabilities for deterrence and combat purposes. Use of missile systems to improve stand-off capability is no longer a strategy adopted by state actors, but non-state actors are also venturing into cruise missiles for stand-off capability.[1]

For non-state actors that form integral component of a state’s foreign policy objectives, the missile development trends are noteworthy as they coincide to an extent with the trend followed by their state actors, closing the technology gap that otherwise could exist between state and non-state actors.

Though as of now non-state actors have only focused on short and medium range missile capabilities, even if their parent state has concentrated on longer range missile capabilities, it is noteworthy to observe that these short and medium range missiles prove strategic assets for them.

For example, non-state actors like Hezbollah have received weapon systems from Iran under the guidance of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, (IRGC) in Iran. It is also reported that North Korea transfers missile systems to Hezbollah through Syria.[2] Myriad reports have validated that the missiles provided to Houthis bear resemblances with Iranian missile systems.[3] Reports of missile factory run by Hezbollah with aid from Iran and North Korea have been a concerning factor especially as the group has tensed relations with Israel.

There are also reports that the Quds force of the IRGC is trying its best to enable all proxies of Iran to be able to manufacture precision guided missiles autonomously.[4] Proliferating missile systems to non-state actors by state actors is a means to earn hard cash. Also, proliferation of missile systems to non-state actors could be a foreign policy objective of a state to destabilise its adversary with which the non-state actor is involved in tussle.

For example, strengthening Hezbollah in the Persian Gulf would mean more limited scope for the United States to exert its influence in the region.  Also, providing missile technologies to Hezbollah threatens the security of Israel.

Hence, coercive diplomacy is practiced both through direct means and indirect means. Such moves also help states like Iran to maintain their deterrence vis-a-vis the United States and also Israel.

Private or public sector companies of a state could be involved in facilitating black market sale of weapon systems between a state actor and a non-state actor. In 2014, North Korea is also reported to have sold missile systems and communication technologies to Hamas–a Palestinian asymmetric organisation in Middle East struck a deal worth millions of dollars which was being handled by a Lebanese based trading company that had close ties with the Hamas.[5] This report however, has been denied by North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman “calling it a baseless sophism and sheer fiction let loose by the U.S. to isolate the DPRK internationally.”[6]

In October 2021, a seizure order by Israel was signed against a Lebanese company Shreif Sanitary Co accused of facilitating Hezbollah’s precision strike missile program.[7] Other companies include Toufali, Moubayed and Barakat accused of providing Hezbollah machines, oils and ventilation systems- components of Hezbollah’s precision missile program.[8]

It is evident that non-state actors could possess missile capabilities that not only have the capability to target tactical assets but also strategic assets too.

To make matters worse, many non-state actors are proxies of state as mentioned above to carry on their strategic and foreign policy objectives. Hence, access to the missile market for these non-state actors makes these actors a strategic weapon against adversaries strengthening deterrence of the state that support them as proxies.

Making missiles easily accessible to asymmetric groups has also thinned the line between conventional and unconventional warfare as unconventional groups apply conventional methods in warfare.

Thus missile capabilities among non-state actors providing them with deep strike capabilities have changed the nature of warfare. It has also blurred the technological superiority that state actors once enjoyed as many non-state actors like Hezbollah, Houthi and Hamas are possessing missiles that could threaten strategic assets of adversaries destabilising stability.

Houthis use missile capabilities to target UAE and Saudi Arabia for their increased presence in Yemen. Houthis receive missile capabilities from Iran.

Hence, it could be concluded that while state actors use non-state actors as proxies to achieve their objectives, non-state actors could use state actors as their ‘mentor’ for technological and deterrent prowess to achieve their objectives. Firing of missiles by Houthis against UAE is to ensure that Abu Dhabi returned to its policy of non confrontation while also aimed to target oil facilities at Saudi Arabia.[9]

Non-state actors capitalize on varied modes of accessibility to missile technologies that are credible and advanced to seek greater combat capabilities. In the near future, non-state actors like Hezbollah could acquire Anti-Satellite (A-SAT) capabilities from Iran. Acquiring such capabilities by non-state actors could pose a serious security and strategic challenges for the state actors that could be a target of these non-state actors.

Such capabilities would not only act as ‘weapons of terror’ for non-state actors as they would directly be able to destroy a state’s satellite capabilities affecting the state’s economy adversely, but such  capabilities also boost the ego and morale of such non-state actors possessing technologically advanced capabilities.

State Actors but Covert Market

In 2018, states like North Korea also aid state actors with missile technologies irrespective of the domestic or political situation of the state they are helping. Pyongyang was reported to have shipped more than forty items that are used in ballistic missiles to Syria from 2012-2017.[10] Syria was under international sanctions following the Syrian Crisis.

North Korean missile development program despite United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions has been suspected to be aided by Ukrainian missile industry that provided powerful engines from the Soviet era factory through black market. [11]

Provision of missile systems by states to states situated in the same region as that of their adversaries could act as a ‘deterrence’ against adversary. For example, China provided sophisticated M-9 and M-11 solid propelled ballistic missiles to Pakistan. In 1987, unassembled M-11 missile system was delivered to Pakistan by China.[12] The M-11 missiles were capable of carrying nuclear warheads. China’s missile sale to Pakistan not only helped Beijing earn hard cash, but also helped Beijing to provide deterrent capability to Pakistan threatening India’s security environment.

North Korea also provided No-Dong missile systems to Pakistan (referred to as Ghauri) in return for nuclear technology to North Korea. Pakistan supplied centrifuge technology to North Korea. [13] The North Korean missile market became the choice for Pakistan in the 1990s when China refused to sell its missile technology to Pakistan owing to Beijing’s desire to normalize relations with the United States that strained[14] during the Tianenmen Square incident.

Collaboration and partnerships may not always become an easy process especially when the partnerships are with states that are already sanctioned by international community. A Chinese businessman, Li Fangwei was sanctioned by the United States over sales of missile parts to Iran.[15]

In 2023, Chinese companies like General Technology Limited, Beijing Luo Luo Technology Development Co. Ltd, Changzhou Utek Composite Ltd. were sanctioned by the United States. General Technology is accused of providing brazen materials used for joining components in ballistic missile rocket engines and in the production of combustion chambers; Luo Luo is accused of supplying mandrels and other machinery used for the production of solid propellant rocket motors while the latter supplied D-glass fibre, quartz fabric, and high silica cloth used in missile systems.[16]

According to reports, state actors that have been sanctioned due to their illegal missile venturing, could pursue procurement networks evading export controls and sanctions. The end user may not be aware of the illegal activities related to missile procurement of states that obscure end users through several layers of companies. They could also falsify end-use documentation and shipment details while also use deceptive tactics to gain access to international financial systems.[17]

State Actors but Overt Market

It is equally noteworthy to understand how the legal missile market is also burgeoning especially in a post COVID-19 world order where defence sectors have struggled to maintain their supply chain. Thus major players in the missile market are also finding means and ways to sort the complexities arising due to supply chain constraints.

Co-production and joint development of weapon systems is now a common trend in developing states that wish to co-produce or jointly develop a weapon system. This helps in the state’s military availing of technologies in a weapon system that suits their combat and deterrence requirement. It also ensures that maintenance and logistic facilities as well as other support equipment are locally available at ease. For instance, Russia and India jointly developed the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.

Joint development of missile systems could also be between private sectors of a state system working towards a similar goal. For instance, the United States under the Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) is working towards developing weapon systems that could reach any part of the world within less than sixty minutes.

Hence, Raytheon Missiles and Defence, Northrop Grumman Corporation, the U.S. Air Force and Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) have progressed with scramjet-powered Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). [18] However, in order to achieve this goal of developing CPGS, some enterprises like Boeing is single-handedly working on weapon systems like the HyFly2 hypersonic cruise missile design.[19]

Not only are enterprises working on whole missile systems but also development of support systems for missiles on delivery platforms. For instance, in order to make B-1 bombers capable of being a platform for testing hypersonic missiles, Boeing has developed Load Adaptor Modular (LAM) pylon. In addition, this LAM could increase the B-1 bomber’s munitions carrying capacity. The LAM can carry heavy weapons like the Advanced Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). [20]

BAE Systems for instance, has provided systems engineering and sustainment support for the US SLBM. The enterprise has also provided systems engineering, integration, testing, logistics and other services to strengthen the deterrent value of the US ICBM force.[21] Nuclear or conventional deterrence strengthened through missile force is heavily reliant on the system support, logistical support of the ICBM and constant advancements of the missile forces which can happen through technological means like digital and systems engineering. Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc. provides propulsion systems for Trident II D5 missile systems.[22]

Russia collaborated with Belarus’ Minsk-based factory MZKT to provide Russia chassis for its tactical ballistic missile Iskander and also for the S-400 systems’ parts. [23] In the recent past, this venture between Russia and Belarus has proved fruitful for Belarus because Russia is reported to have deployed the tactical Iskander which is nuclear capable in Belarus though with command in Russia’s hands. In the past, Russia refused to provide Belarus with Iskander systems. Thus, defence economic relations could at times also strengthen strategic relations and coerce a state to cater to the security needs of the partner state.

Others on the other hand cooperate with countries with advanced technological competitive advantage for a better market share in the defence procurement industry. For example, Turkey’s Roketsan that had developed the Stand-off Cruise Missile for Turkish Air Force teamed up with the Lockheed Martin to modify the cruise missile to be fitted into the Lockheed Martin developed F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF).

In fact, according to Roketsan chairman, Emin Alpman, “offering SOM-J to the international F-35 marketplace will bring critical business to Turkey and provide an important capability to allied nations.”[24] Roketsan has made impressive moves in the missile industry and become a significant player in the missile market. In 2022, there were reports, that Indonesia would purchase Khan missile, the export version of the Bora missile. Though derived from Chinese technology, this missile is produced by Roketsan under licensed version.[25]

While states like Russia, the United States and China have their missile industrial complexes, lesser known states are also working towards developing their own military industrial complexes. Sudan for instance, is an example of how international arms embargo on Sudan imposed in the 1990s led it to venture into developing their own weapon systems that are efficient to an extent that they are now being displayed in weapon systems exhibitions for other countries to buy. [26] This has been made possible due to the efforts of the state owned Military Industry Corporation (MIC) and in future they could venture into developing cruise missiles and also short range tactical ballistic missiles.


Over the years, market trends in the missile market have been influenced by both state actors as well as non-state actors.

Irrespective of international sanctions, the missile market has continued to flourish.

Both the legal as well as the illegal markets continue to grow. While the legal missile market will grow at unprecedented rate, owing to its utility in conventional warfare, the illegal market would also continue to grow as long as some states remain sanctioned and prohibited by international legal norms to develop and possess missile capabilities and as long as non-state actors continue to realise the potential of missile systems as weapons to strengthen unconventional deterrence.

Credit Photo: Israeli naval force intercepts Iranian weapon ship.

[1] Timothy Wright, “The challenge of non-state actors and stand-off weapons,” IISS, December 6, 2019, <The challenge of non-state actors and stand-off weapons (iiss.org)>

[2] “Leading Potential Clients for North Korea’s New KN-23 Hypersonic Ballistic Missile: From Vietnam to Hezbollah,” Military Watch Magazine, May 17, 2021, <Leading Potential Clients For North Korea’s New KN-23 Hypersonic Ballistic Missile: From Vietnam to Hezbollah (militarywatchmagazine.com)>

[3] “What ballistic missiles do the Houthis have and how do they get them?,” The National News, January 24, 2022, <https://www.thenationalnews.com/gulf-news/2021/11/01/what-are-the-houthi-ballistic-missiles-and-how-do-militias-obtain-them/>

[4] “Fabian Hinz, “Missile multinational: Iran’s new approach to missile proliferation,” IISS, April 26, 2021, <https://www.iiss.org/blogs/research-paper/2021/04/iran-missile-proliferation-strategy>

[5] Con Coughlin, “Hamas and North Korea is secret arms deal,” The Telegraph, July 26, 2014, <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/palestinianauthority/10992921/Hamas-and-North-Korea-in-secret-arms-deal.html>

[6] Emily Rauhala, “North Korea denies selling missiles to Hamas,” Time, July 29, 2014, <http://time.com/3049799/north-korea-denies-selling-missiles-to-hamas/>

[7] Israel sanctions Lebanese companies aiding Hezbollah missile project,” The Times of Israel, February 6, 2022, <https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-sanctions-lebanese-companies-aiding-hezbollah-missile-project/>

[8] Israel sanctions Lebanese companies aiding Hezbollah missile project,” The Times of Israel, February 6, 2022, <https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-sanctions-lebanese-companies-aiding-hezbollah-missile-project/>

[9] Murat Sofouglu, “How access to missiles gives an edge to non-state actors in the Middle East,” TRT World, 2022, <How access to missiles gives an edge to non-state actors in the Middle East (trtworld.com)>

[10] “North Korea sent Syria missiles and chemical weapon items, says UN report,” The Guardian, February 28, 2018, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/28/north-korea-sent-syria-missile-and-chemical-weapon-items-says-un-report>

[11] William J. Broad and David Sanger, “North Korea’s Missile Success Is Linked to Ukrainian Plant, Investigators Say,” The New York Times, August 14, 2017,< https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/14/world/asia/north-korea-missiles-ukraine-factory.html>

[12] “Hatf-3/ M-11/Shaheen-1,” Federation of American Scientists, <https://fas.org/nuke/guide/pakistan/missile/hatf-3.htm>

[13] See interview Pervez Hoodbhoy in Sattar Khan, “Pakistan’s indirect role in North Korea’s nuclear programme,” DW, September 14, 2017, <http://www.dw.com/en/pakistans-indirect-role-in-north-koreas-nuclear-program/a-40507693>

[14] Scott A. Jones, “The Evolution of Ukraine’s Export Control System: State Building and International Cooperation,” in eds., Gary K. Bertsch and Suzette R. Grillot, Reducing the Risk of Proliferation in the former Soviet Union, (Great Britain: Routledge, 1998), pp.67

[15] William Maclean, “Iran seeks banned nuclear items, uses China trader for missile parts: U.S.,” Reuters, March 17, 2014, <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-supplies/iran-seeks-banned-nuclear-items-uses-china-trader-for-missile-parts-u-s-idUSBREA2G1EF20140317>

[16] “US puts sanctions on three Chinese companies for missile parts supplies to Pakistan,” The Economic Times, October 21, 2023, <missile parts: US puts sanctions on three Chinese companies for missile parts supplies to Pakistan – The Economic Times (indiatimes.com)>

[17] Bart M. Macmillan, Alexandre Lamy, and Alexandra Kumar, “US Government Issues Iran Ballistic Missile Procurement Advisory,” Baker McKenzie, October 23, 2023, <US Government Issues Iran Ballistic Missile Procurement Advisory – Global Sanctions and Export Controls Blog (bakermckenzie.com)>

[18] “Third Flight Test for DARPA’s HAWC Yields New Performance Data,” Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, July 18, 2022,  <Third Test Flight for DARPA’s HAWC Yields New Performance Data>

[19] Martin Manaranche, “Sea Air Space 2021: Boeing Unveils New Hypersonic Cruise Missile Concept,” Naval News, August 4, 2021, <Sea Air Space 2021: Boeing Unveils New Hypersonic Cruise Missile Concept – Naval News>

[20] John A. Tirpak, “New Boeing Pylon Could Shift Hypersonics Testing to B-1, Add Bomb Capacity,” Air &Space Forces Magazine, May 19, 2023, <New Boeing Pylon Could Shift Hypersonics Testing to B-1, Add Bomb Capacity (airandspaceforces.com)>

[21] “Sustaining the ICBM Nuclear Deterrent,” BAE Systems,< ICBM Sustainment Capability | BAE Systems>

[22] “Trident II D-5 PBCS,” Aerojet Rocketdyne,< http://www.rocket.com/trident-d-5-pbcs>

[23] Siarhei Bohdan, “Belarusian defence industries: doubling exports and launching ballistic missile production,” Belarus Digest, May 30, 2017, <https://belarusdigest.com/story/belarusian-defence-industries-doubling-exports-and-launching-ballistic-missile-production/>

[24] Lara Seligman, “Lockheed Teams with Turkey’s Roketsan for F-35 missile,” Defense News, September 16, 2015, <https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/afa-air-space/2015/09/16/lockheed-teams-with-turkeys-roketsan-for-f-35-missile/>

[25] Tayfun Ozberk, “Indonesia to be the first foreigner user of Turkey’s Khan missile system,” Defense News, November 8, 2022, <Indonesia to be first foreign user of Turkey’s Khan missile system (defensenews.com)>

[26] “Sudan becomes major ‘weapons producer’,” Dabanga Sudan, February 25, 2015, <https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/sudan-becomes-major-weapon-producer>

Editor’s Note: This article provides a look at what we call the emergence of the multo-polar authoritarian world in our latest annual publication.