DAYTON, Ohio — The Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate handled a record $32.9 billion in foreign arms sales last year, fueled by the sale of 84 F-15SA fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, according to Department of Defense officials.
The $29.4 billion fighter jet deal is believed to be the largest export sale the Department of Defense has had, according to Charles E. Taylor, a Defense Security Cooperation Agency spokesman in Arlington, Va.
The agency and the State Department also had a role in the sale, Taylor said.
The directorate's sales in 2011 were nearly $8 billion. The directorate is headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency counted $69.1 billion in total U.S. foreign military sales in fiscal year 2012. Saudi Arabia accounted for about half that amount at $35.1 billion.
Sales have quintupled since 2000 when the United States sold $12.1 billion in aircraft, vehicles, equipment, weapons and training to foreign countries that year, defense figures show.
The directorate handles weapons and equipment sales with 99 countries, according to Brig. Gen. James E. Haywood, agency director. Those deals reach back to the 1940s with propeller-driven C-47 troop and cargo transports to unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, flying today.
"It's very important to our national security," Haywood said recently at a Dayton Area Defense Contractors meeting. "It's very important to our industrial base. These are win-win propositions."
By far, the Middle East has the biggest appetite for Air Force foreign military sales with $58 billion in aircraft, weapons and equipment over the years, according to directorate figures.
The U.S. European Command region, which includes NATO countries, comes in second with $39.9 billion worth of contracts and the U.S. Pacific Command region is third with $32.1 billion, directorate data shows.
China, Russia and European nations are the biggest arms sales competitors to the United States, Haywood said. The United States tripled arms sales in 2011 and accounted for nearly 80 percent of arms exports, mainly to the Persian Gulf region where countries grew concerned about Iran's regional ambitions, according to The New York Times.
Haywood said he expected the Asia-Pacific region will be an area where sales grow. "I see various countries looking to really upgrade capabilities in the future," he told defense contractors.
China has drawn the concern of some of its neighbors in territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines in recent months and for years has declared Taiwan a renegade province that broke off from the mainland.
Haywood said he did not expect his mostly civilian workforce would be exempt from upcoming furloughs set to begin in late April, but the impact was not yet known.