The number of employees at the five largest U.S. defense firms has dropped 14 percent from a peak in 2008 — and 10 percent over the past decade, according to a POLITICO analysis of employment figures filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense company, has shed close to a quarter of its employees since 2008. Raytheon, Boeing’s defense unit and Northrop Grumman have also shed thousands of workers over the past five years, seeking to maintain profits even as defense spending contracts.
The job losses make clear just how rapidly the defense industry has seen its fortunes change. After years of growth starting with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and continuing with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, companies have been making massive cuts to adjust to the budget declines they’ve seen so far — and further anticipated reductions.
“A great deal of the profitability that you see among some companies in our industry was unfortunately delivered on the backs of thousands of workers who lost their jobs,” said Chip Sheller, a spokesman for the trade group Aerospace Industries Association.
But some analysts say this strategy will eventually have consequences. Roman Schweizer, an aerospace and defense policy analyst at the investment firm Guggenheim Securities, said the cuts mean losing skilled workers and risking deterioration of engineering and research capabilities.
“One of the things that people appreciate is they’re maintaining their profitability, but that is at the expense of not only employees but also infrastructure,” he said. “There’s always a question of how much you can do without having a negative impact.”