With $31.5 billion in annual revenues, General Dynamics (NYSE:GD) is one of the biggest defense companies in the world. It's bigger than British behemoth BAE Systems, and twice as big as France's Thales. In the U.S., only Lockheed Martin and Boeing are bigger.

Now, just about everybody knows that General Dynamics is the company that makes the Army's M1A2 Abrams main battle tank. And yet, as much as we think we know about General Dynamics, there's still a lot about the company that many people do not know.

Here are just a few of those things.

1. Generally tanks -- but not always
Did you know, for instance, that General Dynamics actually makes about 50% more money from selling airplanes than it does from selling tanks and other armored vehicles?

It's true. According to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence (formerly known as S&P Capital IQ), General Dynamics' combat systems division (where the tanks come from) sold $5.6 billion worth of armored vehicles last year. But General Dynamics' aerospace division did $8.85 billion worth of business.

Where do all these aerospace revenues come from? In a word: Gulfstream. General Dynamics owns the famous business jet brand, and with an operating profit margin north of 19%, Gulfstream isn't just General Dynamics' biggest business, but its most profitable as well.


2. Generally aerodynamic
Gulfstream is just General Dynamics' most recent foray into the air. Most notably, in the 1970s, General Dynamics developed the F-16 Falcon fighter jet. It later sold the F-16 business to Lockheed Martin in 1993.  Today, the F-16 remains the world's most popular line of fighter jets.

General Dynamics also gave birth to a company it's sometimes confused with in the mainstream media -- General Atomics. Formed originally as a unit of General Dynamics in 1955, General Atomics was later sold to Gulf Oil in 1967. After a series of resales among other companies, "General Atomics Aeronautical Systems" was ultimately spun off as an independent company in 1994 -- the same year its Predator drone made its first flight.

Today, General Atomics' Predator drones -- and the Reapers and Avengers that succeeded it -- utterly dominate the field of weaponized drones used by America and its allies. And one imagines that General Dynamics deeply regrets the decision to part ways with its subsidiary.

3. Generally admiral-able
Although General Dynamics is a major player on land and in the air, the fact that 70% of the Earth is covered  by water certainly isn't lost on it. (After all, for much of its existence, it was known as Electric Boat Company, and was a pioneer in developing combat submarines.) Today, through its Electric Boat and Bath Iron Works divisions, General Dynamics is also one of America's two biggest military shipbuilders. Alongside peer Huntington Ingalls, General Dynamics builds an array of Navy warships, including both Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers and Virginia-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarines.


4. Generally tech-savvy
Land, air, and sea -- so far, we've covered three of General Dynamics' four big business divisions. But in fact, it's that fourth division that is actually the company's biggest moneymaker: information systems and technology.

With products ranging from communication and command-and-control systems to signals intelligence to information technology -- and even healthcare -- GD IS&T collects annual revenues approaching $9 billion, and accounts for more than 28% of the revenues General Dynamics pulls down in a year.

5. Generous dynamics? Not very
With so much cash at its disposal, you might expect General Dynamics would be one of the defense industry's more generous dividend payers. It's not.

Here at The Motley Fool, I keep track of most of the major U.S. defense companies, and not a few of their more significant rivals abroad. Out of the top 10 defense contractors I monitor, though, General Dynamics' 2.1% dividend payout ranks a below-average seventh on the list (ahead of only Textron, Huntington Ingalls, and Northrop Grumman).

Personally, I'm pretty confident General Dynamics will be raising its dividend this year. But unless and until it does, if it's a big dividend you're looking for, you'd better look elsewhere.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.