Foreign weapon sales by the US tripled last year to US$66.3bn as Gulf states sought to build up their military supplies amid growing tensions with Iran, a new report said.
US arms sales reached a record high, up from US$21.4bn in 2010 and US$31bn in 2009, according to a study by the US Congressional Research Service.
Weapons sales declined amid the global economic downturn but increasing tensions with Iran over its nuclear weapons programme have seen Gulf countries spend billions of dollars on defence procurement.
Foreign arms sales have become increasingly important to weapons makers as the Pentagon’s budget flattens because of US deficit-reduction requirements.
US military deals with Saudi Arabia topped US$33.4bn last year, according to the report. Agreements included the purchase of 84 advanced F-15 fighters and upgrades of 70 of the F-15 fighters in the current fleet, said the report.
The UAE purchased Lockheed Martin’s Theatre High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in a deal valued at US$3.49bn last December and 16 Chinook helicopters for US$939m. Oman acquired 18 F-16 fighters for US$1.4bn.
The US and the EU have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iran to pressure it to give up its uranium enrichment programme. The US and its allies believe Iran is looking to build nuclear weapons but Iran says the programme is for civilian purposes such as producing energy.
The US is leading an effort to protect NATO’s European territory against ballistic missiles that could be fired by Iran in retaliation for any preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Lockheed Martin last month said Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Gulf states have shown interest in purchasing its missile-defence system to counter perceived threats. “Look, all of the [GCC] nations have an interest,” Dennis Cavin, a company vice president for army and missile-defence programmes, told Reuters.
The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency in June said it was eying military sales of more than US$1bn to Qatar and Oman. The possible sale to Qatar would include 12 Black hawk helicopters, 26 engines and 15 common missile warning systems. The agency also said Oman is interested in purchasing 55 Sidewinder All-Up-Round missiles as well as other related equipment.