What Is A Defense Contractor?

A defense contractor is an individual hired by the Department of Defense to work for the United States Government to contract people to do various types of jobs, or to provide products or services to the government.

These include IT specialists, data analysts, doctors, accountants, scientists, security personnel and many more. 

It is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “any individual, firm, corporation, partnership, association, or other legal non-Federal entity that enters into a contract directly with the DOD to furnish services, supplies, or construction”. 

The job of these defense contractors is to work with outside businesses to provide supplies and services for the defense of the United States. They are integral to the support of United States troops.

In recent military operations in areas such as Afghanistan and Iraq, defense contractors made up half or more of the total Department of Defense presence in the country.

United States defense spending

The Bloomberg Government creates a yearly ranking of the top federal defense contractors. In the 2019 fiscal year, the United States government spent $404 billion on defense contracts. 

The Pentagon have increased defense spending by $122 billion in the period from 2015 to 2019. In the last year, the defense spending increased by $30 billion. 

What are the requirements for becoming a defense contractor?

With almost no exceptions, United States defense contractor positions require you to be an American citizen. You do not have to be born here, but you must have taken a citizenship test if you were not. 

You will also need security clearance. There are 2 ways to get this - either through employment in a government role, or if you have been sponsored by an organization that wishes to hire you.

You are likely to have to take many tests to ensure you are a reliable enough individual to work with sensitive information.

You will likely need to undergo drug tests too. 

What can prevent you from getting security clearance?

There are a number of reasons you would not be able to get the required security clearance.

These include:

  • Any criminal convictions in your past which resulted in a sentence of a year or more of jail 
  • If you use controlled or illegal substances currently, this is a strong indication you will not be granted security clearance
  • You will need to be declared mentally competent by a Department of Defense approved mental health professional
  • A dishonorable discharge from the Armed Forces will prevent you from getting the necessary security clearance
  • Unwillingness to give up a foreign passport
  • Continued and serious financial struggles
  • If you are found to have lied intentionally on your application
  • If you have a history of alcohol abuse, you will not be granted security clearance
  • Finally, if there is a pattern of rule breaking or criminal activity you will be denied security clearance.

What is a prime defense contractor? 

Prime contractors are people that have a direct contract with the DoD. This differs from a general defense contractor.

Their role is to hire and co-ordinate the work of subcontractors. Their primary directive is to keep the task at hand on track and on budget. 

Who are the biggest defense contractors?

The top 10 defense contractors in 2020 are as follows:

  1. Lockheed Martin Corporation
  2. Boeing Company
  3. General Dynamics Corporation
  4. Raytheon Company
  5. Northrop Grumman Corporation
  6. United Technologies Corporation
  7. Huntington Ingalls Industries Incorporated
  8. Humana Incorporated
  9. Harris Corporation
  10. BAE Systems Plc

In the fiscal year of 2018, the top 5 defense contractors were: 

  1. Lockheed Martin Corporation
  2. The Boeing Company
  3. Raytheon Company
  4. General Dynamics Corporation
  5. Northrop Grumman Corporation.

The Lockheed Martin Corporation was contracted $39 billion. Boeing was contracted $27.4 billion, Raytheon were contracted $18.1 billion, General Dynamics were contracted $14.3 billion and Northrop were contracted $10.8 billion.

These figures are stated in the Federal Procurement Data System Top 100 Contractors Report, fiscal year 2018. 

These 5 companies were granted 30% of all the Department of Defense’s contractual obligations for the entire year. They are known as the prime contractors. 

How much money do defense contractors make?

This depends on the state in which you are working. San Francisco has the highest paying positions with an average yearly salary of $152,829 according to Comparably.com.

On average, the yearly salary for a defense contractor falls around $101,031. Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York also have above average reported salaries. Salt Lake City has a lower than average salary projection. 

Salaries range from around $19,398 to $517,263 across the United States.

Which state spends the most on defense?

California is the state spending the most money on defense, with $49 billion being spent a year on average. 

The top 10 are as follows:

  1. California
  2. Virginia with an annual defense spending total of $46.2 billion
  3. Texas with a yearly defense spending total of $37.7 billion
  4. Maryland with an annual defense spending total of $21.1 billion
  5. Florida with a yearly defense spending total of $19.2 billion
  6. Washington with an annual defense spending total of $15.2 billion
  7. Connecticut with a yearly defense spending total of $15 billion
  8. Georgia with an annual defense spending total of $13.2 billion
  9. Pennsylvania with a yearly defense spending total of $12.1 billion 
  10. Alabama with an annual defense spending total of $10.9 billion

How many contractors does the DoD employ?

This is not specified in terms of individual contractors, but is calculated in terms of contractor full-time equivalents for direct labor.

In the FY2017 report, this was 464,500 FTEs.

How to find defense contractor roles

The federal job website and the Department of Defense websites are good places to start looking for open job roles.

If you are a company wishing to provide a defense service, you will need to submit a bid for the specific project you wish to work on.

The length and format of this bid will vary depending on the quantity of work and money associated with the job.


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