U.S. arms sales tripled in 2011, hit record $66.3 billion

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U.S. weapons sales tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions, according to a new study for Congress. Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or nearly 78 percent of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion.

America’s largest customer was Saudi Arabia, which purchased more than $33bn worth of weapons from the US, including dozens of F-15 fighter jets, missiles, and other materiel.

The American total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.

A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman to purchase American weapons at record levels. These countries do not share a border with Iran, and their arms purchases focused on expensive warplanes and complex missile-defense systems.

The United Arab Emirates and Oman also both spent billions, purchases driven in part by fears over Iran’s regional ambitions. The Obama administration has touted these deals as a major stimulus for the US economy, saying the Saudi arms sales alone would generate some 75,000 new jobs.

The US also arranged several multi-billion dollar deals with Asian nations, including an agreement with China to sell transport planes worth more than $4bn. All told, the US sold 78 per cent of the world’s arms in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8bn in arms sales. The report was prepared by the Congressional Research Service, which conducts studies for US lawmakers.

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