Proposed U.S. Arms Sales Reach New Heights

Xiaodon Liang

Notifications of potential arms sales presented to Congress in 2010 spiked to $102.5 billion, four times higher than the 10-year average from 2000 to 2009 and surpassing the previous record of $75 billion proposed in 2008. (See ACT, March 2009.) Sales to Middle Eastern states represented more than three-quarters of the notifications.

These foreign military sales notification figures do not represent actual deliveries.

By law, Congress is notified when the Department of Defense proposes government-to-government sales of major defense items, articles, and services, as well as construction and design projects if the values of those sales reach minimum thresholds. Once notified, Congress has either 15 or 30 days, depending on whether the recipient is on a shortlist of preferred states subject to less-stringent congressional notification requirements, to block a sale by joint resolution of disapproval. No sales ever have been blocked by this method. Congress also can pass legislation to stop or modify sales at any time up to the point of delivery.

The 2010 total includes a $60.1 billion proposed arms transfer to Saudi Arabia submitted to Congress in October. (See ACT, December 2010.) The package is centered on the sale of 84 F-15SA aircraft and the upgrade of 70 more. Other big ticket items include 70 AH-64D Block III Apache Longbow helicopters, 72 UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters, and various light helicopters, along with their equipment and associated missile systems. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United States is a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which would have barred the sale of Sensor Fuzed Weapon units included in the package.

Elsewhere within the region, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also sought significant arms sales, with a potential purchase of 60 Apache Longbows and other items worth up to $5.4 billion. For four years in a row, the UAE has been among the five largest proposed recipients of military sales, with the total value of requests being $28.2 billion since 2007. In 2008, notifications for the UAE included the first potential foreign sale of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system, for which a final contract may be signed later this year.

In 2010, notifications of potential sales to Iraq included 18 F-16IQ aircraft, the refurbishment of its M113A2 armored personnel carriers, and ammunition for M1A1 main battle tanks, 140 of which are currently being delivered. The total cost of these potential sales is $4.9 billion. Oman proposed spending $3.6 billion reinforcing its air force with purchases of 18 F16 Block 50/52 aircraft and training and logistics support for its C-130J-30 transport aircraft.

Potential sales to Israel consisted of $2.0 billion of jet and vehicle fuels. Last September, Congress simplified future sales to the country by approving an amendment to the Arms Export Control Act adding Israel to the preferred-client shortlist that also includes NATO allies, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

A diplomatic controversy erupted in February after a package of helicopters and Patriot missiles to be shipped to Taiwan was presented to Congress following lengthy negotiations, despite the elimination of the diesel submarines and F16C/D fighter aircraft that were the heart of the original proposal. (See ACT, March 2010.) In reaction, China cut military ties with the United States until this past January.

Notifications of several large military sales to India amounted to $8.0 billion. Among these was a December notification for parts and weapons systems for 22 Apache Longbow helicopters. Unlike many other notifications, this one was made in advance of an official letter of request from India. Instead, it was submitted as part of an international competition so that, “in the event that the…[U.S.] proposal is selected, the United States might move as quickly as possible to implement the sale,” according to the notification. As of early February, India had not announced whether it had accepted the U.S. bid. U.S. leaders, including President Barack Obama, are actively promoting exports to India. The largest near-term military competition consists of an estimated $11 billion contact for multirole medium-range combat aircraft, part of almost $100 billion India is expected to invest in its military in the coming decade.