- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2018

With the commander in chief acting as the head salesman, U.S. weapons firms racked up a banner year in foreign military sales, up more than a third in the fiscal year that just ended to $55 billion and falling just short of the all-time record.

Administration officials have spent the past several months aggressively touting the quality and value of American military hardware to foreign militaries. The effort falls in line with the White House’s “Buy America” initiative, with Pentagon and State Department officials promising an even more aggressive push this year.

“We are invested in making our [weapon] systems better” compared with similar arms and equipment offered by Moscow or Beijing, said Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, who heads of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The agency is the Defense Department’s main arm responsible for coordinating U.S. foreign military sales.

The “inevitable choice” for foreign nations’ militaries allied with the U.S. is to buy American-made weapons “if they want to stay partners” with Washington, the two-star general told reporters after a speech Tuesday at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington.

President Trump rarely misses an opportunity to tout the quality and cost effectiveness of U.S. defense hardware, as well as the American jobs they support, even in Oval Office get-togethers with fellow world leaders.

“The United States makes by far the best military equipment in the world — the best jets, the best missiles, the best guns, the best everything …,” he told reporters at the end of this summer’s NATO summit in Brussels. “Our equipment is so much better than anybody else’s equipment, when you look at our companies — Lockheed and Boeing and Grumman.”

The White House in April took the wraps off an arms sale approach designed to reduce the red tape and bureaucracy in approving deals and enlisting State Department diplomats in the sales effort.

Allied militaries seem to be getting the White House’s message, according to agency figures. The $55.6 billion in weapon sales by U.S. arms makers to foreign forces around the globe represents a trend that “coincides with policy reforms the administration is spearheading to better align conventional arms transfers with national security and economic interests,” agency officials said in a statement released Wednesday.

The $55.6 billion for the 12 months that ended Sept. 30 represents signed and sealed agreements, some of which had been first negotiated under previous administrations. Officials at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency revealed Wednesday that more than 14,500 “open cases” of potential foreign military sales were in the pipeline.

The fiscal 2018 sales total trails only the $69.1 billion in foreign military sales in fiscal 2012, when Saudi Arabia made a massive $30 billion purchase of F-15 fighter jets during the Obama administration.

“There has never been a better time of alignment and cooperation” across U.S. government agencies to leverage foreign arms sales as a way to bolster military ties, Gen. Hooper said Wednesday, adding that rising foreign weapons sales mean a “more competitive U.S. defense industrial base.”

Nearly 100 countries fly, float and fight with American-made weapons systems. U.S. defense companies are the leading producers of advanced strike aircraft, precision-guided munitions and missile defense systems.

Mr. Trump sought to leverage that high demand in the world market for American weaponry by spearheading the “Buy America” initiative. The Pentagon, State Department and administration officials spent several months hammering out the policy, which set out a far more visible role for the White House and federal agencies in promoting U.S.-made weapons to foreign countries.

But Russia and China are pushing back hard, aggressively marketing comparable weapon systems to those offered by the U.S. to its allies.

Russia has secured deals with Turkey, a NATO member, as well as India and other longtime U.S. allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to field its advanced S-400 missile defense system. Moscow has also reportedly pitched S-400 sales to China, which is looking to counter the Pentagon’s THAAD missile defense system stationed in South Korea. Beijing says the system is a threat to its nuclear deterrence.

Gen. Hooper and others tasked with boosting U.S. arms exports say they are well aware of the competitive challenge.

“We recognize that we are in a very competitive environment,” Gen. Hooper said in an interview while declining to comment specifically on Russian and Chinese pressure being placed on U.S. weapons deals. “We will look for creative ways to work with our partner nations” regardless of what actions others may take against the U.S. arms industry, he said.

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