WASHINGTON U.S. government-to-government arms sales rose 4.7 percent to a record $38.1 billion last year and are projected to total almost as much in 2010, a Pentagon agency said on Friday.
The bumper 2009 sales reflected 465 percent growth from an arms sales "low point" in fiscal 1998, according to Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa, head of the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Many, if not most, of the pacts signed in fiscal 2009 that ended September 30, are part of a boom in U.S. conventional weapons sales that started under former President George W. Bush.
The 2009 sales were up from $36.4 billion in sales agreements in 2008 and $23.3 billion in 2007, said the agency, which administers the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales program, a key part of U.S. alliance-building and maintenance.
U.S. sales are expected to top $37.9 billion in fiscal 2010, which began October 1, Vanessa Murray, an agency spokeswoman, said in a written reply to Reuters.
Top U.S. arms makers such as Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, Northrop Grumman Corp, General Dynamics Corp and Raytheon Co are looking to boost overseas sales to help hedge against Pentagon belt-tightening at home on big-ticket arms programs.
The top purchasing countries in 2009 were United Arab Emirates ($7.9 billion), Afghanistan ($5.4 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($3.3 billion), followed by Taiwan ($3.2 billion), Egypt ($2.1 billion), Iraq ($1.6 billion), NATO ($924.5 million), Australia ($818.7 million) and South Korea ($716.6 million), Murray said.
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Tim Dobbyn)