FARNBOROUGH --- The United States has already blown past the amount of weaponry it sold to foreign governments all last year — with more than two months to go before the fiscal year ends.
American defense companies, with the blessing of the Pentagon and State Department, have already sold $46.9 billion worth of weapons to foreign governments this year, leaving the $41 billion worth of deals in 2017 in the dust.
Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which coordinates foreign sales, revealed the new numbers to me on Monday. “The president and the administration’s plans have given us that leadership, guidance and focus, and we understand that this comes directly from the top, directly from the White House,” he said.
The record for any single year is the $69.1 billion reached in 2012, but that was an outlier since it saw a staggering $29 billion deal for 84 F-15s to Saudi Arabia — a single signature line item that sent the total rocketing up from $40 billion.
The previous high — without that massive Saudi buy — was $47 billion in 2015, a number the Pentagon is now within inches of topping.
The huge numbers being posted so far in 2018 are partly the product of a push by the Trump administration to increase weapons sales as part of its America First ideology to boost U.S. manufacturing and, the thinking goes, arm allies in order to take some pressure off the Pentagon from providing security across the globe.
Asked about where he sees the most growth in arms sales in the near term, Hooper said that “clearly we see an emergence in ballistic missile threats,” and allies in Europe eyeing Russia, and the Persian Gulf, nervous about Iranian capabilities, are important in that regard.
Arms sales have become a central part of the president’s remarks whenever he travels overseas, where he extolls the virtues of American weapons, while pushing allies to spend more on their own defense. At the NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump suggested that he’s willing to help some smaller allies buy more American gear.