- Barrie Barber Staff Writer
The Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate, headquartered at Wright-Patterson, had the second highest sales to foreign militaries in a decade reaching $19 billion, more than doubling sales from the year prior, figures show.
Sales of the fifth generation F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter to South Korea at $6.3 billion, to Israel at $2.8 billion and to Japan at $1 billion were the biggest driver of higher spending, according to figures released to this newspaper Friday. The directorate also handled a $1 billion deal to upgrade Singapore’s F-16s.
“We are selling state-of-the-art technology around the world,” said Col. Bruce Monroe, senior materiel leader for the international division. “The majority of our sales are complex systems that are in the United States Air Force today.”
Total U.S. sales to foreign militaries reached nearly $47.1 billion in fiscal 2015, according to Department of Defense figures. Sales have risen dramatically the past two years from $27.8 billion in 2013 and $34.2 billion in 2014, figures show.
The United States has increased its share of arm sales to Asia, the Middle East and Latin America over the last decade, said David McKeeby, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, which has a final say in foreign military sales and views them as a diplomatic tool.
“I would say that despite global economic strain, demand for U.S. defense products and services remains strong around the world,” McKeeby said. “This administration in particular has worked really hard to support the U.S. defense industry, because it supports our national security and jobs at home.”
AFSAC handles the sale of Air Force weapons, equipment and training and maintenance support to foreign militaries and recorded sales of $9.8 billion in 2014. The sale of 84 F-15s to Saudi Arabia in fiscal 2012 pushed to a record $44.5 billion that year. “It was one of the largest foreign military sales in U.S. history,” McKeeby said.
Geopolitical hot spots
Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said arms sales likely will be the strongest in the future in East Asia and the Persian Gulf “because counties there have the combination of cash and security concerns needed to motivate purchases.”
“In the Persian Gulf, oil-rich Arab states are worried about the challenge posed by Iran, ISIS and now Russia,” he said in an email. “In East Asia, U.S. allies are worried about China’s growing reach, and South Korea lives in the shadow of North Korea’s nuclear program.”
India is another geopolitical spot where arms sales have been strong, Thompson said.
The United States is the biggest arms exporter in the world, eclipsing both Russia and China.
Brig. Gen. Gregory M. Gutterman, AFSAC director, said international allies and partners have recognized they need to to bolster their militaries.
“What I personally think is happening is that countries are starting to recognize the United States can’t continue to stretch ourselves all around the globe, and that our partners who have been our partners and friends and allies for years and years and years are starting to realize that they’re going to help a little bit, too,” he said in an interview.
The one-star general cited Japan’s recent decision to change its constitution to allow the Pacific nation “to provide a little bit more military presence in terms of their ability to provide self-defense to friends.”
“That’s a tremendous change and one that took years and years and years to get to,” he said. “That’s just an indication of the countries that are starting to recognize that they are capable and will be willing, in my opinion, to protect their own national interests when they need to.”
China has worried its neighbors with claims to the mineral rich South China Sea and expansion of its Navy and Air Force. The nation has turned Pacific reefs into islands with massive dredging and reportedly was at work to build airstrips to project power further from its shores. Russia’s military intervention in the Ukraine and Syria have stirred concerns in Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and the Middle East.
With more than 600 employees at Wright-Patterson, AFSAC handles rising demands for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems and troop, transport and fighter aircraft. The directorate has deals with 105 countries. Of those, 26 nations have sent representatives to the Miami Valley military base, officials said.
Not every deal is a state-of-the-art technological weapon, however.
The agency has agreements with foreign militaries that fly Vietnam-era aircraft, such as the OV-10 Bronco and the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, Monroe said. Those deals often include the cost to train crews and maintain aircraft.
“I will tell you from a United States Air Force perspective, the more operational capacity they have the fewer missions or areas of responsibility have to be handled by U.S. Air Force operators,” Monroe said.