The Trump administration is nearing completion of a new “Buy American” plan that calls for US military attaches and diplomats around the world to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the American weapons industry.
The US arms export will receive a massive boost in the sale of fighter jets, drones, artillery, warships, and guns to non-NATO allies and partners in a move by the Trump administration.
The Trump administration is also planning a controversial move to ease the 1976 arms export rule and realign the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regulation.
Once Trump administration formally announces the plan, there will be a 60-day public comment period, after which further details are to be unveiled by the administration.
Curbing the trade deficit
During the 2016 presidential election campaign, President Trump promised to create more jobs in the US by increasing sales of goods and services abroad and bring down the US trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion.
The arms are not an ordinary commodity or consumer goods but to reduce US trade deficit, the US is willing to ask American embassy officials around the world to act as sales advocates of American arms to the country where the embassy is located.
The US has the industrial might to produce and export arms to countries on a mass scale. During President Trump’s first international trip, he announced a $110bn arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
American arms exports
The Security Assistance Monitor data shows that the Trump administration oversaw a significant surge in arms exports in 2017 by at least $12.5bn between the months of January and November compared to the previous administration.
Between those months, the US had sold more than $62.5bn in foreign military sales in 2017, compared to $50bn in 2016, according to data from Security Assistance Monitor.
US manufacturers are facing stiff challenges in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the African arms market from the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. The US defense manufacturer has faced increasing pressure from competing defense contractors around the world, especially from China and Russia.
The recent example of a long-term American ally, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey’s purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems worth billions of dollars proved that defense manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are facing challenges from Russian manufacturers like Almaz-Antley and the Chinese China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC).
Russian manufacturer United Aircraft Corporation offered their top fighter jet, Su-35 Flanker-E to long-term American ally the United Arab Emirates. China also, unsuccessfully, bid for Turkey’s long-range surface-to-air missile RFP.
Bangladesh can approach the US state department for foreign military sales and enhance the capability of the military
In the Indian mega defense market, Lockheed Martin and Boeing are also challenged by the United Aircraft Corporation of Russia.
The Chinese Shenyang Aircraft Corporation accelerated the development of a fifth-generation fight jet Shenyang J-31 also known as the “Gyrfalcon” by some military enthusiasts and unveiled the J-31 fighter jet to the foreign buyer for $70m per fighter jet. The Shenyang J-31 is in direct competition with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II with an estimated cost over $100m per fighter jet.
Although Shenyang J-31 is controversially known to be a reversed engineered Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II through cyber espionage, the reduced cost of Shenyang J-31 means developing countries and the non-NATO allies of America will have an opportunity to buy the fifth generation fighter jet J-31 at a cheaper cost.
The China factor
The Chinese arms export is based on three simple principles. First, that it is conducive to the recipient country’s justifiable self-defense needs. Second, it does not damage regional and global peace, security, and stability.
Third, it does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. These simple principles make it easier for China to export arms to any country.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reports that the Chinese volume of weapons exports between 2008 and 2012 rose to 162% compared to the previous five-year period.
The SIPRI data shows that China has established itself as the third largest arms exporter and replaces Great Britain in the top five arms exporting countries between 2008 and 2012.
The controversial move
The controversial move to oversee human rights will allow the export of arms to countries with poor human rights records and suppressed fundamental democratic values.
The Trump administration has already approved sales of $7bn worth of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia in May to assist RSAF’s campaign against the Houthis rebel in Yemen, $3bn of F-16s to Bahrain in September, and $593m of Super Tucanos to Nigeria in August.
It is evident that the current administration will ease all restrictions posed by the previous administration. The powerful US gun lobby backed Trump in the 2016 election campaign contributing more than $30m to his campaign. The US State Department estimates that $4bn of commercial firearms were exported last year, of which $3.2bn would shift to commerce under Trump’s plan.
In recent years, Canada, Australia, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia have been among the top destination countries for US non-military firearms exports, according to US census data.
Oversight of human rights
The strict compliance with human rights standards is the long-term US arms transfer policy. The current administration will weaken existing human rights oversight and vetting may just contribute to future human rights violations but could end up further destabilising regions just as the Middle East and fueling future conflict in Southeast Asian regions.
There is a high possibility that countries like Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Pakistan will be leading recipients of the non-NATO foreign military sales.
Given the criticism of Saudi behaviour last December, there is an opportunity to signal to Riyadh and others that they must act responsibly and ensure that future US arms transfers are not used to target civilians and violate human rights.
The opportunity for Bangladesh
The Bangladesh military has long opted out of American military hardware for fear of sanctions by the American administration.
Bangladesh Armed Forces always purchased poor quality military hardware from Russia and China. The result of that procurement is depleted capability of the Bangladesh military compared to regional armed forces. The Myanmar military can procure high tech military hardware from Israel and the UK circumventing various sanctions by the US. The recent examples of the repetitive crash of Russian-made fighter jets and helicopters prove that the Russian military hardware is many years behind western technology.
The recent mishap of Bangladesh Air Force cost taxpayer millions of dollars if not billions. BAF seriously needs to consider western fighter jets like the F/A-18 Super Hornet or Gripen NG.
Since the Trump administration has loosened arms export control, Bangladesh can approach the US state department for foreign military sales and enhance the capability of the Bangladesh military.
Raihan Al-Beruni is a contractor and analyst for a global defense and security supplier based in Australia.