Transfer of Defense Articles: Sale and Export of U.S.-Made Arms to Foreign Entities
(Source: Congressional Research Service; issued April 30, 2020)
The sale and export of U.S.-origin weapons to foreign countries (“defense articles and defense services,” officially) are governed by an extensive set of laws, regulations, policies, and procedures. Congress has authorized such sales under two laws:

-- The Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of 1961, 22 U.S.C. §2151, et seq.
-- The Arms Export Control Act (AECA)of 1976, 22 U.S.C. §2751, et seq.

The FAA and AECA govern all transfers of U.S.-origin defense articles and services, whether they are commercial sales, government-to-government sales, or security assistance/security cooperation grants (or building partnership capacity programs provided by U.S. military personnel). These measures can be provided by Title 22(Foreign Relations) or Title 10(Armed Services) authorities. Arms sold or transferred under these authorities are regulated by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the U.S. Munitions List (USML), which are located in Title 22, Parts 120-130 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

The two main methods for the sale and export of U.S.-made weapons are the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and Direct Commercial Sales (DCS)licenses. Some other arms sales occur from current Department of Defense (DOD)stocks through Excess Defense Articles (EDA) provisions.

--For FMS, the U.S. government procures defense articles as an intermediary for foreign partners’ acquisition of defense articles and defense services, which ensures that the articles have the same benefits and protections that apply to the U.S. military’s acquisition of its own articles and services.

--For DCS, registered U.S. firms may sell defense articles directly to foreign partners though licenses and agreements received from the Department of State. Firms are still required to obtain State Department approval, and for major sales DOD review and congressional notification is required. In some cases where U.S. firms have entered into international partnerships to produce some major weapons systems, comprehensive export regulationsunder22 CFR 126.14are intended to allow exports and technical data for those systems without having to go through the licensing process.

Congress has amended the FAA and AECA to restrict arms sales to foreign entities for a variety of reasons. These include restrictions on transfers to countries that violate human rights and states that support terrorism, as well as limitations on specific countries at certain times, such as any Middle East countries whose import of U.S. arms would adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge. Arms transfers to Taiwan are governed under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, P.L. 96-8, 22 U.S.C. § 3301 et seq. Under the AECA, Congress can also overturn individual notified arms sales via a joint resolution. During the 116thCongress, such joint resolutions were introduced in opposition to planned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but did not pass.

All U.S. defense articles and defense services sold, leased, or exported under the AECA are subject to end-use monitoring (to provide reasonable assurance that the recipient is complying with the requirements imposed by the U.S. government with respect to use, transfers, and security of the articles and services) to be conducted by the President (Section 40A of the AECA)to ensure compliance with U.S. arms export rules and policies. FMS transfers are monitored under DOD’s Golden Sentry program and DCS transfers are monitored under the State Department’s Blue Lantern program.

Click here for the full report (32 PDF pages), on the CRS website.


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