U.S. Seeks Foreign Arm Sales
Image Credit: U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol

U.S. Seeks Foreign Arm Sales


Facing defense budget cuts in the hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade and an increasingly complex world made all the more challenging by the emergence of China as a strategic competitor, the Pentagon is hoping to hit two birds with one stone by exporting more arms abroad — drones, in particular.

Starting last year, the Barack Obama administration launched a wide-ranging program to establish, and in some instances loosen, guidelines on arms exports to foreign countries. Through those efforts, the government hopes to create a comprehensive policy that would unify the two lists of defense-related export items administered separately by the State Department and the Department of Commerce.

Defense firms, which could reap huge benefits if exports policies were streamlined and restrictions loosened, patiently await the decisions by Congress and the State Department on the matter. While the policy makes its way round government, agencies have adopted an interim measure by evaluating whether some of the categories from the Munitions List could be moved to the Commercial List. Although such a move wouldn’t mean that a defense article has become “decontrolled,” it would nevertheless make it easier for the U.S. government to export sensitive weapons systems to close allies.

According to recent reports, new rules, if adopted, would make 66 countries eligible to purchase unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from the U.S., including Northrop Grumman Corp’s RQ-4 Global Hawk. While those countries have not been named, Japan, Singapore and Australia have reportedly shown an interest in the UAV. A deal with South Korea last year didn’t go through, reportedly due to Seoul’s budget constraints.

Proponents of the new mechanism argue that longstanding rules on “dual-use” — devices that have both civilian and military applications — are putting U.S. manufacturers at a disadvantage against competitors that are not subject to such regulations. They also argue that strict regulations preventing the export of certain technologies risk eroding the U.S.’ market share of the global arms trade and favor major competitors like Russia and China.

While those regulations exist for a reason — mainly to protect the theft of sensitive technology — the pendulum appears to be swinging away from caution and towards a more liberal exports regime. There are two possible reasons for this.

The first is purely financial as the U.S. defense industry looks abroad to recoup some of the revenue lost as a result of the cuts in the Pentagon’s budget. That process already appears to have begun: According to the Congressional Research Service, U.S. arms sales last year experienced a threefold increase over 2010, reaching U.S. $66.3 billion, the largest single-year total arms sale value in U.S. history, and accounting for over 75 percent of the global arms market. Asia in particular, whose defense spending this year surpassed that of Europe for the first time, will prove an attractive market to U.S. firms. Several countries there are in the process of modernizing their forces, a process that has accelerated recently amid rising tensions with China in several overlapping areas in the East and South China Sea. It is also the one region that so far has managed to weather the global financial downturn, meaning that governments in the region might be somewhat less reluctant to loosen the purse strings to acquire weapons from the U.S.

U.S. defense companies also fear that restrictions limiting arms exports could encourage allies to develop their own, a long, costly process that would not only hurt future U.S. arms sales but also deny allies the articles they need to ensure their immediate defense needs.

The second, and related, reason why the Pentagon is keen on seeing the revisions become a reality is that the Obama administration, “pivot” to Asia notwithstanding, would rather see its close allies bolster their defenses than for them to piggyback on U.S. forces. In times of fiscal restraint, why should the U.S. have to pay the bill for surveillance operations over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands and its surrounding waters using its own RQ-4 Global Hawk when Japan could acquire its own? And in several peripheral contingencies, Americans would reasonably prefer that Japanese, or Filipinos, defend their own interests — preferably using U.S. arms — than to see U.S. servicemen and women get in the line of fire.

Loosening up restrictions could also make sense from the perspective of U.S. allies. In a related analogy, the State Department, for example, continues to enforce Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) regulations on its ally Taiwan. This prevents the island, which must adopt an asymmetrical/counterforce strategy to deter China, from extending the range of its cruise missiles. China, meanwhile, continues to benefit from unrestrained arms transfers from Russia, thus putting the U.S. ally at an unenviable disadvantage.

In the end, U.S. politicians will have to strike a balance between allowing further arms exports, the risks of acquisition of sensitive technology by competitors, and the likelihood that a more permissive regime will spark arms races in the regions where the sales occur. 

January 2, 2013 at 16:31

very well said.. I couldnt agree any better…

October 3, 2012 at 02:54

you should  tell that to china vic… last i heard… millions of peasants are still dirt poor and starving there… why not spend money on them… the filipinos were inward looking and was spending money on our people and economy until the chinese came…now we're forced to modernize our military..
cant blame us pinoys for having one of the weakest militaries in the region.. we had bigger problem to solve and our priorites are our people.. not guns and armaments.. sadly.. the chinese took advantage of that… so priorities changed for us… 
was it so hard to ask to ask the CCP to leave us alone? maybe you can ask your CCP comrades that question for me….

October 3, 2012 at 02:47

suprisingly.. the philippines is the 4th largest shipbuilding nation…the problem is that our industries are not military in nature…they are civilian. we build ships.. just not warships… 
after all, it was US policy that discouraged its allies from developing their own defense industries.. take japan for instance.. its US imposed constitution barred it from creating its own army and military forces… japan is limited to its self defense forces… now that the two chinas (PRC and ROC) are invading japans territorial waters… the US is kinda ambigous and unclear in its support… can you blame the japanese for being paranoid? they're militarily unprepared to defend themselves becuse they felt assured by the US… now that assurance is put into question… theyre in between a rock and a hard place.. change their constitution to allow a military and the US will revoke the mutual defence treaty… if they keep their constituion the same and ban a military… they take the risk of washington reneging on its promise at a crucial time.. say a chinese attack on japan… leaving them unprepared…
the same problem is for the philippines… with the US barring weapon sales to the philippines for a long time… instead giving the filipinos assurance through the MDT…. the filipinos have the same problem as japan…
my question to the american public is… can you afford to lose your allies? the US should decide whether it will stand with china or with its allies… americans should start asking themselves which countries are those they have a common interest with… america can't take on the whole world you know… 

October 3, 2012 at 02:13

the filipinos just realized that the US dont have allies – they have proxies and clients. the US supplies billions of dollars in military aid to pakistan… a very unstable country, (who cant even find osama bin laden hiding in a nice neighborhood for the past decade). the US has supplied fighter planes (at low low prices), advance frigates and ships.
compare that to how they reacted to a philippine request to buy US f-16's (emphasis on the word buy… not aid)… the US offerred one of the oldest blocks of F-16's. After stripping down the hamiltons, offerring dilapidated aircraft, etc. the filipinos decided they'd rather buy from the intalians, spanish, korenas, and croatians… filipinos and ASEAN countries have jump started their own industries with the filipinos buying indegenous aircraft from indonesia and MPAC's from vietnam while supplying ASEAN countries with smalls arms and rifles…
it seems that the US doesnt need our money… better spend it on others then… 
the US message to the worls is this…if you want aid, trade, money from the US.. then be our enemy… take care of terrorist who bomb our planes and cities, abuse your people, be dicators… becuase we'll try to buy your loyalty… as long as you keep threatening us… we'll give you attention and $$'s… just dont be our ally coz we treat them like sh**. we want our allies to fend for themselves… we wont even sell them stuff to defend themselves.. but its their fault if they got attacked… because they didnt buy beforehand…  so just be our enemy…lol… 

September 12, 2012 at 19:49

It would require a ton of money developing your very own indegenous warship and sadly the Philippines doesn't have that kind of Capital. We are only building indigenous patrol ships but I do not think we have the Capability yet for a Warship.

Yes thankfully the Philippine Government has realized that they should stop purchasing weapons from the USA especially since it is quite expensive and yet they stripped the weapons from said ships.

Dan Pendleton
September 11, 2012 at 13:21

Hahahaha!!! I just love it when the 50-cent brigade attacks me personally. It tells me I must be doing something right!

Dan Pendleton
September 11, 2012 at 13:19

South Korea already can build intact warships with sensors and missiles. Why not just order from Daewoo Heavy Industries instead of buying obsolete hand-me-downs?

September 11, 2012 at 10:51

That's How American love Filipinos they give us show ship not for defence but for lure or baits; I think Pilipino must Make their own Indegenous warship even fighter planes with the help of european Technology specially German, Swede, French and Other's No more American help they will burn us and even sold to China. with american PHilippine security is Compromise.

The Beast & Its Imps
September 11, 2012 at 10:31

The bl**dy Washington is only interested in looking after its own interests at the expense of the world.  Like the senseless killings in the U.S., they would export the unwanted culture by selling arms and more arms to Asian countries. And they have the temerity to criticize other countries selling a pittance arms to the world compared with the U.S.. This is obviously the Beast with its imps like "Dan Pendleton" and "Cryus" pouring poison onto the world.

September 11, 2012 at 01:14

Yes, one such example is the Hamilton Cutter that the Philippines bought. They transferred it to us but without the weapon system intact, hence it's a sitting duck. The answer? The Philippines will be buying Maestralle Class Frigates from Italy with intact systems.

Dan Pendleton
September 10, 2012 at 20:43

"Americans would reasonably prefer that Japanese, or Filipinos, defend their own interests — preferably using U.S. arms — than to see U.S. servicemen and women get in the line of fire."
Ha! the USCG should have thought of that before stripping all the advanced weaponry and sensors from the 2 Hamilton-class cutters prior to their transfer to the Philippine Navy. People who don't think before they act end up paying for it in the end.

September 10, 2012 at 20:40

Why should developing countries buy US arms instead of US industrial equipment ?  It is the old question – butter or guns?  Poor countries should concentrate on building up their economies, instead of purchasing unproductive assets like armaments.  When will the world ever learn that only the rich could afford expensive weapons and that the rich should help the poor not with armaments but with productive equipment.

September 10, 2012 at 17:03

firstly the claim that china benefits from unrestrained arms transfers from russia is false and your source even says so. second the sales of missiles from russia to china do abid by the MTCR which only limits the range of complete systems.

thats said, more sales so the other countries can at least pick up some burden of their own defence is good for all involved.

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