The advent of the new Commonwealth government brought significant changes to the way that advanced armaments were produced and sold. The new decentralized military system brought with it new problems, and the Commonwealth Legislature nationalized the defense industry in NE 40. While this did put a number of companies out of business, it also permitted a crackdown on an industry whose corruption was notorious during the Antebellum and Regency periods. The corporations that survived this crackdown are mainly exporters of arms to approved clients, or sell less lethal equipment to individual civilian buyers. This has not completely eliminated residual malfeasance, and prosecutions have continued to drive some companies out of the Commonwealth completely. The four largest private arms sellers and military manufacturers are Blackhawk Industries, Starsenal, Hellforge, and Benchmark Arms.
Blackhawk Industries (BI)
Blackhawk was once the Domain of Deneb's largest arms suppliers, after the now defunct megacorp Instellarms. It was also one of its most notorious, and it was continually in the soup with Imperial and Domain authorities well before the Civil War erupted. During the Civil War the company profited from the contraction of Instellarms and LSP's military divisions, and became a primary supplier of weapons and equipment to the Regency Army after the Collapse. But its corrupt business dealings with the Sword Worlds came to light after the aborted 1132 Landgrab, and a significant portion of its dealings went underground as a Minotaur, a process that accelerated after tensions began to escalate between the Zhodani and their neighbors. BI barely survived the Crucible War, as all of its foreign divisions were destroyed by Zhodani troops, and the domestic divisions were forced to pay hefty fines for tax evasion. The company has recently completed a relocation of its headquarters to Drayne/Khukish, and will register in the Drayne Federation in NE 73.
Though universally located throughout the Commonwealth, the majority of these divisions sell commercially available arms on the open market. The company has lost considerable market share to competitors like Benchmark Arms and Starsenal (see below) and is consolidating its operations around "military services" (code word for Mercenaries) in regions to trailing of the Commonwealth.
Blackhawk is a general military services provider. Mostly this means the company is a buyer of products manufactured for it by smaller firms, and is chiefly a distributor with few manufacturing assets owned directly. Most of its sales are either provided in private arms stores, or are sold through legally supervised open markets on Drayne and Deneb. The company sells an enormous amount of arms and logistical services to trailing, but a growing percentage of its profits are coming from retention and supplying of starmerc outfits for the dangerous routes through old Vilani sectors (Meshan, Mendan and Amdukan) to Antares and Gashikan.
A company that has a reputation for malfeasance takes a long time to shed it. Blackhawk seems to be undecided about the undertaking the effort. The company has made alliances with newer Minotaurs like the Four Seasons Trading Company of Vland Sector, and various shady operators among the Antarean states and the non-aligned worlds between the Commonwealth, Fourth Imperium and Antares. Part of the problem seems to be the fact that Blackhawk's founding charter was bent less towards simply selling arms than in selling the "lifestyle" of amorality that created a demand for its services, and naturally the company seems to gravitate towards the gray areas where mercs and dictators flourish.
The Commonwealth's second largest provider of commercially available weaponry was originally formed out of several divisions of Instellarms sold off at auction when that company pulled out of the Domain of Deneb. Unlike Blackhawk, one of its main competitors, Starsenal has avoided mass sales to nefarious elements, instead making its name selling starship weaponry to commercial haulers and small ship owners. Most of its arms are sold to institutional buyers such as police forces and shipping companies, though its commercial small arms have a good reputation for affordability and quality.
Universally distributed throughout the Commonwealth, except where local militia laws mitigate against open market sales. Starsenal operates its headquarters on Deneb/Usani, and the majority of its facilities are located in the Gateway Federation, where it can take advantage of the high precision local manufacturing industry to market its products.
Starsenal manufactures mainly less expensive arms for civilian and paramilitary users. This has enabled the company to escape the legal morass surrounding the Black Regents' government, and avoid the postwar stigma against the "adrenaline monkey" culture of covert ops. The company does provide lightly armed security units for private buyers, and a wide range of passive surveillance equipment.
Starsenal uses positive word-of-mouth in conjunction with muted advertising to sell its products. The company enjoys one of the highest customer returns of any company in the Commonwealth, assisted by its unusually well trained sales force and easy credit policies.
Another Instellarms spinoff that almost didn't survive the postwar defense industry consolidation. Hellforge is mainly a manufacturer of heavy weapons, namely ground vehicles and army equipment, products that were mostly assimilated into the new, heavily regulated National Defense Consortium (NDC). The company had extensive contacts with outside militaries in the Vilani March, and it has survived by marketing its arms from factories outside of the Commonwealth to Aslan and human Filibusters operating to rimward and trailing. The Commonwealth government has taken no stand against this commerce, as it is legal and serves its foreign policy goals of preventing expansion by the other imperial powers in these regions.
Though Hellforge maintains its main office on Dekha/Vincennes (Deneb 1128), nearly all of its installations are located in either trailing pocket empires like the Newcastle Reach, or in Aslan territories in Trojan Reach and Riftspan Reaches. Commonwealth MoJ officers constantly monitor the company's operations safeside, and only basic bureaucratic affairs are handled on Dekha.
Hellforge has historically concentrated on heavy military arms, with a distinct bias towards ground forces. It has increased its share of naval construction since its evolution into areas outside of the Commonwealth. Unlike Blackhawk, the company has never had many interests in mercenaries or anything not involving hardware, and this gives it a good reputation with its customers in a region of space rife with betrayal and coups. Nearly all of the Commonwealth's vetted merc organizations buy their equipment through Hellforge, a seeming reward for the company's good behavior and cheap prices.
Despite constant scrutiny, Hellforge is the picture of patriotic corporate probity. This serves the Commonwealth's twin goals in the areas it operates: promoting the rule of law in corporate governance, and offsetting the need to sell classified or advanced technology to allied countries with poor security or dubious loyalties.
The premiere small arms manufacturer in the Commonwealth actually is a subsidiary of a company founded in the old Duchy of Treyln (an Imperial era client state in the Vanguard Reaches and Far Frontiers sectors) around three hundred years ago. Originally known as Winterhawk Arms in Treyln, the company obtained a subsidiary license in IY 1131, and opened Benchmark Arms on Jewell a few years later. Though the parent company went out of business in Treyln in the aftermath of the conflict now known as Von Ryan's War, Benchmark has managed to survive and thrive, and now has offices in several Post-Crucible spinward states.
Benchmark tends to spread itself thinly across the entire Spinward States region. It has a main HQ on Vincennes/Vincennes, and secondary offices in every federation and commonality capitol in the Commonwealth. The quality and portability of its products have enabled it almost universal access in civilian and paramilitary markets across the region. Benchmark makes arms for all of the major races, and has a considerable commercial presence among the Aslan and Vargr.
Benchmark is only about small arms, though these range from pea-shooters to advanced laser and high energy weapons. But its most famous products are its high quality lines of pistols and hunting rifles. During the Regency period, it acquired the services of several human and Aslan gunsmiths trained in the traditional ways of craftsmanship, and built its entire line of civilian arms around their combined efforts. These weapons, regardless of cost, are of the highest quality mechanically and are built with the shooter in mind.
Because of its evolving line of high quality products, Benchmark uses mainly soft advertising to sell its products.