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former IAEA Director-General

Proposed Major U.S. Arms Export Agreements, January 2016—December 2016
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The value of proposed U.S. major conventional arms sales agreements totaled nearly $63 billion in 2016—the second highest amount during Barack Obama’s 8-year presidency. More than two-thirds (nearly $44 billion) involved just four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia—that each requested greater than $5 billion in sales. Other state requests amounting to at least $1 billion came from Australia, Iraq, Japan, Norway and the United Kingdom. In total, notifications were made involving 26 different countries plus NATO in 2016.

In 2016, the U.S. Congress approved the sale to Qatar of the new F-15QA fighter aircraft to Qatar, which is likely to be a variant of the F-15 Strike Eagle shown here. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)The United States conducts government-to-government arms 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” that total $50 million or more; and construction or design services amounting to or surpassing $200 million.[1] However, if the proposed sale involves NATO members, Australia, Israel, 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.[2] Once notified, Congress has 30 calendar days (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand) to block a sale by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, although it has never stopped a sale once formally notified.

Arms sales notified in 2016 appeared consistent with efforts made by President Obama to gain regional support from GCC members during the negotiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action addressing Iran’s nuclear program. In May 2015, Obama pledged to “help our Gulf partners improve their own capacity to defend themselves” and to “streamline and expedite the transfer of critical defense capabilities.” 

In 2016, Qatar requested the most expensive package of arms sales agreements – more than $22 billion – with weapons, training, and support for 72 F-15QA fighter aircraft comprising the lion’s share ($21.5 billion). Other requests included support and engines for 8 C-17 heavy lift aircraft, 50 Javelin guided missiles, as well as fast patrol boats. 

Kuwait followed Qatar as the only country requesting more than $10 billion in arms sales in 2016 (approximately $12.45 billion). Most of the proposed sales to Kuwait consisted of 40 F/A 18E/F Super Hornets and related equipment, training and support ($10.1 billion). Kuwait also requested equipment to recapitalize 218 M1A2 tanks, support for its F-18 C/D fighter aircraft, radar systems, and 750 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kits designed to make gravity bombs into precision-guided weapons.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia requested sales valued at approximately $5 billion each. Of all proposed sales in 2016, those to Riyadh proved most controversial. In September, 27 senators voted unsuccessfully to block a proposed $1.15 billion sale to provide or repair 153 tanks. In December, the administration notified Congress of a larger $3.5 billion potential sale comprised of 48 CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters and related equipment, training and support. In 2015 and 2016, Saudi Arabia faced national and international condemnation for its conduct leading a coalition fighting in Yemen, during which hospitals and other civilian areas were attacked by Saudi forces. 

The UAE’s 2016 request included 37 Apache helicopters, 400 Hellfire missiles, and more than 14,000 bombs among its primarily airpower-focused potential purchases.

Below is a chart of the top five countries that sought the highest values in U.S. arms exports in 2016, along with some of their specific requests. 

Country

Total Value

Weapons/Services

Qatar

$22.29 billion

  • 72 F-15QA multirole fighter aircraft
  • Support and parts for 8 C-17 aircraft
  • 50 Javelin missiles
  • MkV Fast Patrol Boats, including weapons & training

Kuwait

$12.45 billion

  • 32 F/A 18E Super Hornet fighter aircraft
  • 8 F/A 18F Super Hornet fighter aircraft
  • Recapitalization of 218 M1A2 tanks
  • 750 JDAM tail kits for 500-pound bombs (250), 1000-pound bombs (250), and 2000-pound bombs (250 kits)

United Arab Emirates

$5.06 billion

  • 28 AH-64E Apache helicopters (remanufactured)
  • 9 AH-64E Apache helicopters (new)
  • 14,640 bombs with related fuzes and guidance kits (for BLU 109, 111 and 117 bombs)
  • 4000 AGM-114 R/K Hellfire missiles

Saudi Arabia

$5.01 billion

  • 48 CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters
  • 153 M1Al/A2 tank structures for conversion to 133 M1A2S main battle tanks and 20 battle damage replacements for existing tanks

United Kingdom

$4.20 billion

  • 9 P-8A maritime patrol aircraft
  • 26 Certifiable Predator B remotely piloted aircraft

Below is a table of all 26 states, along with the NATO Support and Procurement Agency, which requested U.S. arms sales in 2016, in billions of dollars, in order:

Country

Total value
($ billion)

Qatar

22.29

Kuwait

12.45

UAE

5.06

Saudi Arabia

5.01

United Kingdom

4.20

Iraq

3.35

Japan

2.72

Australia

2.02

Norway

1.75

Pakistan

.699

Peru

.668

Oman

.311

Argentina

.300

Israel

.300

Egypt

.294

NATO

.231

South Korea

.206

Poland

.200

Finland

.156

Chile

.140

France

.120

Jordan

.115

Morocco

.108

Tunisia

.101

Indonesia

.095

Afghanistan

.060

Philippines

.025

Below are the total values of all notified requests each year from 1997 to 2016, in billions of U.S. dollars, as compiled each year (in current dollars, unadjusted for inflation):

Year

Total Value
($, billions, current US dollars)

2016

63

2015

51

2014

40

2013

56

2012

53

2011

25

2010

103

2009

39

2008

75

2007

39

2006

37

2005

12

2004

12

2003

7

2002

16

2001

19

2000

12

1999

21

1998

12

1997

11

—JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow, and ALICIA JENSEN and DANIELLE PRESKITT, research interns

ENDNOTES

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, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea). Commercially licensed sales of firearms controlled under category I of the U.S. Munitions List valued at $1 million or more must also be notified to Congress but are not considered here. 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 (Theohary, Catherine A., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2008-2015, Washington, D.C., Congressional Research Service, December 19, 2016, p. 16). 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. South Korea was added to this list in 2008, and Israel was added in 2010. Congress, however, is free to pass legislation to block or modify an arms sale at any time up to the point of delivery of the items involved.

Sources: Congressional Research Service, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and Department of State. For more details on Foreign Military Sales and other U.S. programs that result in arms transfer authorizations and deliveries, please also see the Security Assistance Monitor.

Posted: February 1, 2017