- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Pentagon sold over $33 billion in military-grade weapons, materiel and equipment to countries across the globe in the latest fiscal year, a $13 billion drop — nearly 30 percent — from previous years.

The decline in foreign military sales comes at a time when top U.S. weapons makers are looking more and more to overseas markets, just as longtime top weapons buyers such as the Philippines are eyeing competitors in China and elsewhere across the globe.

Of the $33.6 billion in sales tallied by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, $25.7 billion came directly from weapon sales to partner countries. The remaining $7.9 billion were used to support allied nations in training and advising and other non-procurement efforts under the department’s Building Partnership Capacity and Foreign Military Financing programs, according to an agency statement released Tuesday.

Last year, the Pentagon racked up $35.3 billion in weapon sales alone, along with $11.7 billion from non-procurement programs.

Despite this year’s decline, U.S. military officials insist the market for American-made weapons is trending upward overall. Looking at a three-to-five-year market forecast beginning in 2014, “you can see the continuing, growing sales trend over the last decade,” agency Director Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey said. “This year’s totals indicate that our partners continue to seek the quality products and services we offer.”

Big-ticket programs such as the Joint Strike Fighter, which the U.S. and nine allies have agreed to build, remain the Pentagon’s gold standard for international weapons sales.

But U.S. arms makers have increasingly been forced to seek new markets in Asia and the Middle East, as sales shrink due to across-the-board budget cuts under the Obama administration’s so-called sequestration plan.

Sequestration spending limits would drop the number of fighters, bombers, tanks and warships in the American arsenal to their lowest point since World War II, Pentagon officials argue.

Aside from the shrinking U.S. markets, American defense firms are also finding difficulty in making headway in foreign markets as well.

In August, congressional Republicans blocked the Obama administration’s proposed $1 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, long a top customer for U.S. arms.

The deal would have provided Saudi forces with over 150 M1A2 Abrams battle tanks, along with ammunition and small arms, according to the White House. Lawmakers opposed the deal arguing the U.S. weapons were replacing ones lost in Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the civil war in Yemen. Riyadh has been accused of executing a devastating aerial campaign, reportedly using cluster bombs, to put down Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen.

In the Pacific, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in October announced a “separation” from Washington and a turn to China and Russia.

The declaration was the latest in a string of provocative statements from the outspoken new Philippine leader, just as the Obama administration has been trying to rally countries in the region to stand up to a major Chinese push for control of the South China Sea.

It was also a red flag to the U.S. defense industry, since the Philippines is only second to Japan in U.S. major weapons purchases among Pacific nations.

Manila anticipated securing $13.5 billion in deals with China, Mr. Duterte’s trade secretary said during a trade mission to Beijing last month.

Mr. Duterte told his Chinese hosts at the time, “I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to [President Vladimir] Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

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