US weapons sales triple to hit record high amid Middle East unrest

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lockhead terminal high altitude area defence
Launching unit of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD). Photo – Armyrecognition.com

Weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by arms sales to its allied Gulf states, a new Congressional study said on Monday.

Overseas weapons sales by the US totalled $66.3 billion last year, or nearly 78% of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.

The American weapons sales total was an ”extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of US arms exports.

The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totalled nearly $31 billion.

A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman – to purchase American weapons at record levels.

The gulf states’ arms purchases focused on expensive warplanes and complex missile defense systems.

The report was prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress. The annual study, written by Richard Grimmett and Paul Kerr and delivered to Congress on Friday, is considered the most detailed collection of unclassified arms sales data available to the public.

The agreements with Saudi Arabia included the purchase of 84 advanced F-15 fighters, a variety of ammunition, missiles and logistics support and upgrades of 70 of the F-15 fighters in the fleet.

Sales to Saudi Arabia last year also included dozens of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, all contributing to a total Saudi weapons deal from the US of $33.4 billion, according to the study.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have shown interest in buying the most advanced Lockheed Martin Corp missile defence system to counter perceived threats, executives of the Pentagon’s top supplier said earlier this month.

The UAE purchased a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, an advanced anti-missile shield that includes radars and valued at $3.49 billion, as well as 16 Chinook helicopters for $939 million.

Oman bought 18 F-16 fighter aircraft for $1.4 billion.

To compare weapons sales over various years, the study used figures in 2011 dollars, with amounts for previous years adjusted for inflation.

A policy goal of the US has been to work with Arab allies in the Persian Gulf to knit together a regional missile defence system to protect cities, oil refineries, pipelines and military bases from an Iranian attack.

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