State Department supports foreign military sales growth

Key State Department leader explains his support of the growth of foreign military sales to aid the defense industry and U.S. government.

U.S. foreign military sales more than doubled from $34 billion in 2011 to a record $69 billion last year in the effort to boost the ability of allies to counter regional and terror threats on their own, a top State Department official said Tuesday.

The huge increase in the sale of weapons systems from F-16s to tanks and missile defense batteries “reinforces our diplomatic relationships” with partner states and “encourages others to shoulder more of the costs” of defense, said Thomas Kelly, head of the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Defense companies had complained that the State Department too often unnecessarily delayed the approval process. Pentagon leaders had promised they would lobby on behalf of U.S. defense companies to speed up the FMS approval road blocks in order to ease the burden of the onslaught of defense budget cuts on the defense industry.

The standard for a sale was whether “this transaction is in the best foreign policy and national security interests of the United States,” said Kelly, whose office approves sales or transfers by the Defense Department and private firms of U.S. military equipment under the Arms Control Export Act.

“Countries increasingly want to partner with the U.S.” for their own internal security and to counter terrorism and rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, Kelly said. “More and more countries want to cooperate” and the cooperation was underlined by the increased interest from partner states in U.S. military systems, Kelly said.

Kelly was a keynote speaker at a symposium on Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association at a Washington, D.C. hotel.

Defense contractors eager to boost foreign sales to offset cutbacks in U.S. military budgets showed off their wares at an exhibition hall in the hotel. Among them was a representative of Bell Helicopter, producer of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that the United Arab Emirates has been seeking to buy.

The Bell representative declined to be specific, but said there was interest in the Ospreys from states in the Mideast and the Pacific.

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Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.