The hazards of market forecasts

The Leclerc main battle tank made by France's Nexter Systems

The Leclerc main battle tank made by France’s Nexter Systems

Should one believe, and pay a lot of money for, those annual forecasts about potential sales of various types of military equipment? FOB thinks probably not because even if these reports are written in good faith, conflicts and governments’ reactions to them have proven to be totally unpredicatable since the beginning of the 21st Century, making long-term market forecasts of this nature very unreliable.

If we look at main battle tanks (MBTs), for example, an annual report, “The Market for Tanks”, published earlier this month by a U.S. market intelligence and analysis provider, forecasts that more than 3,800 main battle tanks worth over US$17.2bn (€15.3bn) will be produced between now and 2025, with cheaper tanks, such as Russia’s T-90 (including India’s licenced T-90S) Pakistan’s Al-Khalid and China’s Type 98, accounting for 53.7% of all new tanks rolling out worldwide.

But, the same provider, Forecast International Weapons Group, based in Newtown, Conn., projected in 2005 that the market would produce over 8,100 MBTs, worth in excess of US$33 billion by 2014. That’s more than twice as many as in this latest report. Two years later, in its 2007 report, the group had already dropped these figures, forecasting that by 2016 the market would produce 7,600 new MBTs, worth in excess of $31.5 billion: that’s still twice both the numbers of tanks and their value that they’re now forecasting we’ll see in the next 10 years!

Mordor Intelligence, an Indian market research and consulting firm based in Hyderabad, disagrees entirely with these numbers forcecasting for its part that “the number of Main Battle Tanks to be produced till 2020 will exceed 3,000 units.” It agrees however, that Pakistan, China, Russia and India will be major players accounting for “more than half” of these new MBTs.

So, is it possible to know how many battle tanks have actually been produced so far? Whilst trawling the net to try and find an answer to this and compare the various different forecasts of this type that are made, we hit upon a very interesting, if somewhat shadowy website: which describes itself as a “guide to military equipment and civil aviation”. Nobody seems to know who is behind this website (but a very large proportion of their excellent photo library are photos of Russian equipment), it uses U.S. spelling and only specifies that “we are not linked to any government in any way, shape or form.” But they’ve been around for over a decade and claim their “data has been gathered using information available on the internet from governments, the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, internet news media and contractors such as Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin and others.” According to them, a very specific 4,164 main battle tanks will have been produced worldwide between 1992 and 2019. They specify that “the year of reference for each order is taken from the contract award date when available, if not the year of reference is the first delivery date.

Below are some of Deagle’s tables.

This one shows the numbers of each type of main battle tank and how many orders were placed for them between 1992 and 2015:

Main battle tanks between 1992 and 2015



An M60A3. Credit: Defense Visual Information Center

An M60A3. There are more M60s in the world than any other type of tank according to Deagel. Credit: Defense Visual Information Center

This table shows the world’s leading exporters of main battle tanks:

Top exporters of battle tanks 2010-2019

Germany and the United States, which produce the upper tier of state-of-the-art designs for main battle tanks that carry correspondingly high price tags, still dominate the market according to this data. Russia comes 3rd, India and China 9th and 10th but Pakistan doesn’t even make it into the top 22.

A Leopard 2 A7. Photo credit: Krauss Maffei Wegmann

A Leopard 2 A7. Photo credit: Krauss Maffei Wegmann

This table shows the world’s leading potential buyers of main battle tanks:

Top importers of MBTs 2010-2019


There you have it. Only time will tell which of these various forecasts was closest to the truth!