Updated: March 2010
During 2009, the Pentagon notified Congress of an estimated $38.6 billion in proposed, government-to-government, conventional arms transfer agreements with 20 countries.
The United States conducts government-to-government transfers through the Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Not all notified sales result in final transactions. Under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, Congress must be notified of proposed sales of “major defense equipment,” as defined on the U.S. Munitions List, that equals or exceeds $14 million; defense articles and services that are not defined as “major defense equipment” which total $50 million or more; and construction or design services amounting to or surpassing $200 million. However, if the proposed sale involves NATO members, Australia, Japan, South Korea, or New Zealand, the notification thresholds are $25 million for major defense equipment, $100 million for other defense articles and services, and $300 million for construction or design services. Once notified, Congress has 30 calendar days (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand) to block a sale by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, though it has never stopped a sale once formally notified.
The proposed 2009 arms sales total was approximately half as much as the sum of the 2008 proposed sales ($75 billion), and more similar to the sums of 2007 ($39 billion) and 2006 ($37 billion). The 2009 proposed sales were about three times the 2005 total ($12 billion) and 1997-2005 average ($14 billion), unadjusted for inflation.
As in 2008, countries in the Middle East accounted for more than half the total value of proposed sales, with four of the top five countries (by total request value) located in the region. Proposed sales to Turkey were $9.0 billion, an increase of $8.4 billion from 2008, and the greatest boost in potential sales to one country during the period. Ankara’s request includes 14 CH-47F Chinook helicopters, often used for troop movement and other heavy-lift missions, and hundreds of Patriot missiles. Potential sales to Egypt were valued at $5.5 billion, up from $564 million in 2008, and also included Chinook helicopters. In addition to the Chinook, Cairo’s request featured more heavily armed weapons, including 24 F-16C/D fighter aircraft, 12 Apache Longbow helicopters, 450 Hellfire II missiles, 20 Harpoon II anti-ship cruise missiles. Other requests by Middle Eastern states came from Kuwait ($3.8 billion, up from $506 million in 2008), the United Arab Emirates ($3.4 billion, down from $9.0 billion in 2008), Iraq ($1.2 billion, down from $18.7 billion in 2008), Jordan ($814 million), and Bahrain ($74 million). No sales were proposed to Israel, which in 2008 requested more than $20 billion in weapons and services.
Brazil’s 2009 request totaled $7.0 billion, the second largest single country total in 2009 and up from $525 million in 2008. Unlike many other notifications, the proposed sale of more than 30 Super Hornet fighter aircraft and associated armaments was made in advance of an official letter of request from Brazil. Instead, it was submitted as part of an international competition so that, “in the event that the…[U.S.] proposal is selected, the United States might move as quickly as possible to implement the sale,” according to the notification. As of year’s end, Brazil had not announced whether the U.S. bid was accepted.
Below are the five countries that sought the highest values in U.S. arms exports in 2009 and some of their specific requests.
United Arab Emirates
Below are all 20 countries that sought U.S. arms exports in 2009 according to FMS notifications and the total value of their identified requests (in billions of U.S. dollars):
Below are the total values of all notified requests each year from 1997 to 2009 in billions of U.S. dollars as compiled each year, in current dollars (unadjusted for inflation):
($ Billions, current dollars)
Caitlin Taber assisted in the research and writing of this fact sheet.
1. The Department of State is also required to report to Congress any commercial sales it approves of “major defense equipment” that amount to $14 million or more, defense articles and services that equal or exceed $50 million, and any items defined as “significant military equipment.” As in the case of FMS sales, Congress can block the sale with a joint resolution of disapproval within 30 calendar days of notification (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand). There are no official compilations of commercial agreement data comparable to the FMS notifications and what exists is often incomplete and less precise than data on government-to-government transactions (Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2001-2008, Washington, D.C., Congressional Research Service, September 4, 2009, p. 18). The annual Section 655 report, prepared by the State and Defense Departments for Congress, details commercial licenses approved, but states have four years to act under the licenses. The State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls has final responsibility for license applications for commercial defense trade exports and all issues related to defense trade compliance, enforcement, and reporting.
2. Congress approved the higher notification thresholds for NATO members, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand in legislation passed in September 2002. In October 2008, Congress added South Korea to this list.
Sources: Congressional Research Service, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and Department of State.