Introduction to the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC)

Top 30 Facts about the Business of War


1.     They are not “defense companies.” They are war corporations. They market and sell goods and services to the U.S. military, intelligence agencies, and allied governments. Their goal is to maximize profit. Most war corporations are public, i.e. they issue shares of stock, which people—mostly very rich people—buy. The largest private corporations in the business of war include Sierra Nevada Corporation and General Atomics, run by billionaires Fatih & Eren Ozmen and the Blue brothers, respectively. Private equity firms also regularly buy and sell war corporations. Lindsay Goldberg, for example, owns Amentum and Veritas Capital owns Peraton. The Carlyle Group is dominant. Though the war industry is spread across all fifty of the United States, a few locations are industry hotspots: greater Boston, Massachusetts; Tampa and Orlando, Florida; Huntsville, Alabama; the Dallas-Fort Worth region of Texas; Silicon Valley; southern California; and the Washington-Baltimore corridor (consistently home to the wealthiest counties in the country).

2.     The financial industry provides loans and lines of credit to war corporations and advises in mergers and acquisitions. Investment banks and asset management firms hold substantial shares of the top public war corporations (e.g., RTX, LMT, GD). Many state pension and retirement funds (e.g., New York State Teachers Retirement System, State of Michigan Retirement System) are also heavily invested in war industry stock. The financial industry and top corporate executives comprise the 1%.

3.     How are corporations so powerful? Big business captures the U.S. federal government via campaign finance, lobbying, and rotating titans of business through the halls of authority, such as the Pentagon’s top civilian offices. The U.S. Supreme Court has helped big business gain more authority. It ruled that limits on election spending are unconstitutional, gave corporations a First Amendment right to put money toward ballot initiatives, allowed corporations to utilize nonprofits when influencing politics, allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political contributions, and got rid of limits on the total number of political contributions one can give over a two-year period. As corporate personhood gains more and more authority, more and more parts of life are commodified; corporations profit off human needs (e.g., water, healthcare, shelter) and government function (e.g., war).

4.     Corporations have encroached upon military policymaking. Recent examples include SAIC strategic plans and policy support for the Air Force, Deloitte policy assessment and management for the Navy, and CACI policies and practices for Navy acquisition. Several corporations were contracted in March 2023 to support and improve policy development and decision making with regard to U.S. military activity overseas. The foxes don’t just guard the henhouse—they run it!

5.     Members of U.S. Congress regularly profit by investing in war-industry stock. Members also invest in complementary industries, such as fossil fuel. Congress works with lobbyists to pack the annual National Defense Authorization (NDAA) with sections guaranteeing a belligerent foreign policy (e.g., as seen in the most recent NDAA vis-à-vis China) and giveaways to the war industry. Congress does not exercise effective oversight of the war industry. The average congressperson (quite wealthy) is uninformed regarding war and peace (e.g., where U.S. troops are deployed, the capabilities and intent of official enemies).

6.     Most of the U.S. military budget goes to corporations ($452 billion to corporations in fiscal 2023). That means roughly 1/4 of the entire federal discretionary budget goes to corporations in the business of war.

7.     The U.S. government funds the military and pays for war by collecting taxes and by selling Treasury marketable securities. Many corporations in the business of war, including but not limited to Accenture, Amazon, Booz Allen Hamilton, Textron, reportedly go to great lengths to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Raytheon Technologies’ most recent 10-K report (p. 150) to the Securities and Exchange Commission indicates that owns a subsidiary, Commonwealth Luxembourg Holdings, which has reportedly been implicated in tax dodging. The tax burden falls mostly on the U.S. working class, which also suffers corporate price gouging.

8.     The war industry doesn’t just sell bombs, missiles, tanks, ships, and aircraft. It also sells base operations, espionage software, physical security, artificial intelligence, nuclear weaponry, border sensors, ways to knock drones out of the sky, cloud computing, satellites, satellite launch, range operations, kits that convert dumb bombs into GPS-guided weaponry, office administration, construction, missile defense systems, warehousing and distribution, ordnance disposal, information technology, radar, maintenance and cataloguing of prepositioned stock, logistics and consulting, military clothing, and all manner of training and simulation. Corporations (e.g., BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman) even run what remains of the government’s arsenals and ammunition plants. The “forever warskill people. The ordnance used is made in such locations as Radford, Virginia, and Holston, Tennessee (BAE Systems), Orlando, Florida (Lockheed Martin), St. Charles, Missouri (Boeing), Garland, Texas (General Dynamics), and Tucson, Arizona (Raytheon).

9.     Corporations don’t just sell such products. They fabricate, test, evaluate, qualify, assemble, inspect, package, deliver, maintain, upgrade, monitor, and redesign them—all billable activities. Additionally, corporations regularly charge their military and intelligence customers for such services as configuration management, data, documentation, engineering, incidental materials, integration, logistics, “obsolescence management”, operational security, parts, revitalization, spares, support equipment, technical order updates, technical services, and additional training, contracting announcements indicate.

10.  U.S. academic institutions create technology for war and espionage. Prominent participants include but are not limited to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Johns Hopkins University, the University of Dayton, Georgia Tech, and Pennsylvania State University, contracting announcements indicate. The University of California and Texas A&M are heavily involved (alongside traditional war corporations) in the Energy Department’s labs that research and develop nuclear warheads.

11.  Big tech corporations—including your smartphone carrier, the one whose workers bring packages to your door, and the one whose search engine you likely use—contract regularly with the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Among the telecoms, for example, AT&T has supported the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, provided networks and transmission circuits for military communication, and run cyber defenses for Space Force. Comcast is upgrading U.S. military communication infrastructure. And Verizon works on technical support and network upgrades for the military. Telecoms reportedly form the backbone of the federal government’s domestic surveillance apparatus.

12.  The war industry regularly produces overbudget, underperforming products. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most famous example. Other struggling systems include the KC-46 tanker, the Zumwalt-class destroyer, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the Ford-class aircraft carrier, and the amphibious combat vehicle (ACV). The Pentagon could help address this problem by no longer allowing corporations to develop and test products as they produce them (a process called “concurrency”), but that would cut down on corporate profits and upset the very businesses where top officers profit in retirement.

13.  Conforming as they ascend to the top, U.S. generals and admirals support nonstop war and broad military deployments (and reiterate pro-war pretexts coming from the war industry’s think tanks and pressure groups, such as CSIS and NDIA). They judge military activity in terms of numbers (dollars spent, weapons purchased, bases active, troops deployed) instead of clear soldierly goals. These top officers are unwilling to distinguish between the needs of a corporation and the needs of a professional military. In retirement, they profit from war. For example, Adm. McRaven joined Palantir and ConocoPhillips, Gen. Dunford Lockheed Martin, Adm. Stavridis the Carlyle Group, and Gen. Votel Business Executives for National Security. Some, such as Gen. Petraeus, Gen. Odierno, and Gen. Goldfein, make a beeline to financial firms. Corporate America uses their connections and knowledge for profit. Diversity—sexual orientation, gender, skin color—in the top ranks of the military-industrial complex does not change the structural imperatives of the system. The Central Intelligence Agency with a female director still pursued regime change abroad. Lockheed Martin with a female CEO still made record profits. The Pentagon with a black leader still kills Africans.

14.  The troops themselves—the average soldier, sailor, airman, guardian, or Marine—enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces largely for economic reasons (though it can be comfortable for them to embrace traditionally patriotic justifications), as donning the military uniform offers one of the few stable jobs remaining in an economy that Wall Street and Washington have gutted through the neoliberal economic policies. (Still, enlisted troops struggle with hunger, like much of the U.S. working class.) Most military recruits don’t become cannon fodder, but rather serve as vessels for corporate goods and services. Ad agencies design the military’s recruitment campaigns and advertisements. GSD&M is currently in charge of that endeavor for the Air Force and Space Force, Wunderman Thompson for the Marine Corps, Young & Rubicam for the Navy, and DDB Chicago for the Army.

15.  The leadership of the military-industrial complex is rarely punished. Former Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms received a $2,000 fine and a suspended sentence in 1977 after lying to the Senate about CIA activities in Latin America. The bankers at the top of the MIC, who engaged in illegal activity and crashed the global economy in 2008-9, never went to jail. (They gave themselves lavish bonuses after the U.S. government bailed out the banks.) Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress in 2013 and faced no legal consequences for such perjury. Air Force Lt. Gen. Sami Said (who determined that the military’s domestic use of RC-26 spy planes during the summer 2020 protests was legal and not aimed at protestors) was the same officer who held no one responsible for the U.S. military’s August 2021 drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and his children. Now retired, Said is a top executive at Raytheon. Gen. David Petraeus, who gave his biographer highly-classified material for which she did not have clearance, spent no time behind bars. Yet people of low rank who leak crucial information in the public’s interest about government criminality (e.g., Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Daniel Hale) are met with a hefty punishment.

16.  Military and industry classify information (CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET, TOP SECRET) in order to keep activities and weapons systems hidden and to keep the public ignorant about the scope of the corporate run surveillance state, the full costs of war, and fraud, waste and abuse. Classifying information prevents the public from understanding and rising against the state of permanent warfare. Classified military- and civilian-intelligence budgets violate the Constitution’s requirement that Congress publish an accounting of the receipts and expenditures of all public money. Secrecy also harms science. Effective science is based on free, open discussion. Military funding and stipulations (compartmentation, classification, near-term deadlines, narrow application) oppose free, open discussion.

17.  Jobs! Executives use public-relations expertise and corporate media to play the “jobs” card. Industry lawyers ensure that a given facility does not have to come through with the number of jobs it promises. Meanwhile, spending on healthcare, education, or sustainable energy creates more jobs than spending on the military.

18.  Workers within the war industry are diligent. Jobs range from manual labor (blaster, electrician, machinist, pipefitter, painter, rigger, shipwright, welder) to office jobs (system administrator, attorney, PR specialist) to those that require advanced degrees (computer programmer, engineer, physicist, chemist, mathematician). Whatever the workers produce is not theirs to use or sell. Instead, corporate executives determine what to produce, how to produce it, and to whom to sell it. The profit that the workers create goes toward the executives, stock buybacks, shareholder dividends, and building new facilities in which more profit is created.

19.  Group think, chain of command, nondisclosure agreements, compartmentation, and economic incentives enforce the status quo. Violence and social isolation deter the few workers who consider pushing back against the machinery of war. Advertising, public relations, and propaganda keep the working class (which greatly outnumbers the ruling class) disorganized and compliant.

20.  People who profit from war make large public donations. The former CEO of Lockheed Martin gave millions of dollars to the University of Alabama. The owners of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) gave $1 million to the University of Nevada-Reno. The co-founder of the Carlyle Group gave $5 million to Harvard University. The 1%, which hoards wealth and exploits the working class, looks generous and gets a tax write-off. Big donations (“philanthropy”) very effectively whitewash the business of war.

21.  The war industry contracts regularly with the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA). Northrop Grumman, for example, was the lead contractor building the James Webb telescope. Anyone who tells you it is impossible to fully convert the war industry to civilian purposes is lying. The war industry is already involved in civilian projects, particularly civilian aviation and space exploration, and it will follow the money if non-military budgets are boosted as Defense’s budget is decreased. With enough political will and a federal jobs guarantee, the workers within the war industry could start improving the nation’s infrastructure and pursuing peaceful scientific inquiry. In the meantime, continuing to funnel our best and brightest into R&D for the purposes of war and espionage forestalls all the work they could be doing on infrastructure, climate, space exploration, and the international scientific cooperation needed for the species’ survival.

22.  Capitalists often invoke the civilian benefits that have come from the U.S. government’s immense investment in war. The internet, the jet engine, and radar all came from military research and development. But these are ancillary benefits. (And, unlike products from other industries, the public cannot eat, consume, play with, learn from, or interact with most goods and services sold by the war industry.) Imagine what technological benefits society could achieve if over $800 billion per year was instead directed deliberately toward research and development of technology that benefits human wellbeing and the natural world, not elective war.

23.  The U.S. military has never passed an audit, though many corporations (e.g., Ernst & Young, Kearney & Co., KPMG, PwC) have made a lot of money conducting the ongoing audit. These corporations can simultaneously contract elsewhere within the military establishment. For example, Kearney & Co. is helping the Air Force analyze its mission and has advised the Air Force regarding public relations, special access programs, and strategy. Corporations auditing the U.S. military also audit the corporations that are in the business of war. PwC, for example, has audited Raytheon. The conflicts of interest are immense.

24.  War corporations break the law all the time. Infractions have included bribery, overcharging the government, false claims, and violation of export control laws. The U.S. government then fines these corporations—those it catches, at least. The fines are not prohibitively expensive, and corporations continue to contract with the government and profit greatly.

25.  The Pentagon has multiple programs to bring small corporations into the business of war, further militarizing the U.S. economy. Some large corporations reportedly contract as small businesses in order to obtain the advantages of such a classification. Comparable legal tricks were used by Corporate America to obtain small business loans during the early COVID-19 pandemic.

26.  A handful of big business interests owns media outlets in the United States. The baseline of information aired on corporate media reflects capitalist dogma. Corporate media, such as CNN, NBC, and FoxNews, all follow the same business model: air what attracts the highest ratings and the most clicks in order to generate advertising revenue. Big business runs other media through which people learn about war. Regent Equity Partners owns Sightline Media Group, whose products include most of the major military-focused periodicals: Air Force Times, Army Times, C4ISRNET, Defense News, Federal Times, Marine Corps Times, and Navy Times. Relying on funding from wealthy donors and large corporate interests, National Public Radio is similarly penned in. NPR’s CEO, John Lansing, previously ran a U.S. propaganda organization, the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Section 1078 of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) permitted greater use of such propaganda against U.S. audiences. War corporations also purchase advertisements on news shows, confining the debate even more, as pundits and newscasters typically do not speak out against advertisers. Corporate media then hire retired military officers and spooks who further confine the debate. Pundits and scribes within corporate media rarely disclose their professional ties to war corporations and/or financial investments in the industry. The Pentagon runs its own massive media empire, much of which is coordinated by the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. Hollywood cooperates. The film industry gets matériel and assistance from the Pentagon, and, in exchange, allows the federal government to alter movie scripts. Hollywood also regularly demonizes official enemies, priming the public to loathe the people on the receiving end of U.S. military operations and economic sanctions. Hollywood also functions as a recruiter, offering alluring portrayals of military and intelligence activities, seducing new generations into believing in the thrill or decency of such undertakings.

27.  Think tanks promote information advantageous to their funders. And it is military and industry that fund major Washington think tanks. In turn, the think tanks invent, inflate, and promote new threats and rationalizations for why the United States must maintain a global military presence and fight wars. Such an environment reliably and loudly produces report after report, panel after panel, and interview after interview, about Iran’s “malign activities,” China’s “destabilizing influence,” Russian “meddling,” and Arab “terrorism.” Think tanks also swarm presidential candidates when they are assembling their foreign policy teams, ensuring foreign policy options remain within familiar, profitable confines. Lastly, there is no need for you, a congressperson, to go to the Congressional Budget Office when a think tank (that takes money from the same corporations your campaign takes money from) will promptly provide you with a fine-tuned, pro-war report. Many think tanks draft legislation for congresspeople who receive campaign funding from the war industry. Threat inflation sustains the racket. Reality—for example, you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning in the United States than falling victim to an armed attack carried out by a Muslim—is ignored. The war industry benefits, as threats can sell any good or service imaginable. Armed bureaucracies benefit, as threats justify sky-high budgets and invasive legal authorities.

28.  The two main ways that the U.S. war industry sells weaponry to foreign governments are foreign military sales (FMS) and direct commercial sales (DCS). In FMS, the U.S. government acts as the intermediary between the corporation and the foreign government. DCS, on the other hand, are negotiated privately between foreign governments and U.S. corporations. The State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs issues the export licenses that permit DCS. The U.S. war industry leads the world in arms exports. U.S. legal code does not hinder weapon sales to foreign governments. The Arms Export Control Act requires recipients of U.S. war industry goods and services to use them only in self-defense, and the Leahy Law (as codified in Foreign Assistance Act, Section 502B) prevents U.S. military assistance from reaching militaries that have committed serious human rights violations. Washington merely certifies that the weapons sold are used defensively and that the foreign government is not substantially violating human rights or ignores these laws altogether.

29.  The military-industrial complex is an incorrigible polluter, poisoning the air, soil, and water. This pollution comes in many forms, including fossil fuel combustion, leaky petroleum storage tanks, manufacture of products, testing and use of munitions, burn pits, radioactive waste, nuclear fallout, polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), corporate dumping, chemical solvents and coatings (such as hexavalent chromium, used in protecting weaponry from corrosion), and depleted uranium (DU). The substances used to put out aircraft fires are highly toxic. This pollution is too massive to address. How does the U.S. military clean up some of its pollution? By contracting with Corporate America. The bigger corporations involved, such as Jacobs and Tetra Tech, are best known for their engineering and construction prowess. Contracting announcements indicate that Corporate America conducts studies and environmental assessments; prepares plans and issues reports; surveys sites, oversees wetlands, and supervises land use; drafts Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“Superfund”) documentation; monitors environmental compliance; peruses Executive Orders; plots basing patterns; reviews the National Environmental Policy Act; removes contaminated soil; excavates, characterizes, separates, and transports waste; studies socio-economic issues and demographics; relocates radioactive material; and runs community outreach and public engagement.

30.  The military-industrial complex comes before the wars. The structure—the bundling of a large standing military and an immense industry—needs enemies and thrives on conflicts hot and cold. The state of permanent warfare with us since 1945 (e.g., the Cold War, bombing Iraq and the Balkans in the 1990s, the “war on terror,” and today’s “great power competition” against both Moscow and Beijing), “homeland security,” the domestic surveillance state, censorship under the guise of fighting disinformation, and the digitized border (.pdf) are expressions of the military-industrial complex. When war is your business, peace is your enemy.