US arms makers see European demand boom as threats multiply

A Lockheed Martin F-35 on display at this year's Paris Air Show. According to Mr Rick Edwards, who heads Lockheed's international division, the company's fastest growth market in the world is Europe. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
A Lockheed Martin F-35 on display at this year's Paris Air Show. According to Mr Rick Edwards, who heads Lockheed's international division, the company's fastest growth market in the world is Europe. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PARIS • United States arms makers say European demand for fighter jets, missile defences and other weapons is growing fast amid heightened concerns about Russia and Iran.

Washington sent a group of unusually high-ranking officials including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to the Paris Air Show this year, where nearly 400 US firms were showcasing equipment as the US and Iran neared open confrontation in the Persian Gulf.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing and other top weapons makers said they had seen accelerating demand for US weapons at the biennial air show despite escalating trade tensions between the US and Europe.

"Two Paris Air Shows ago, there weren't a lot of orders," said Mr Rick Edwards, who heads Lockheed's international division. "Now, our fastest growth market in the world is Europe."

Many European nations have raised military spending since Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014, bolstering missile defences and upgrading or replacing ageing fighter jet fleets. Nato members agreed in 2014 to move towards spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence.

Mr Eric Fanning, chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association, said the Nato pledge and European concerns about Russia were fuelling demand.

Industry executives and government officials said growing concern about Iran's missile development is another key factor.

 
 
 

Teheran's downing of a US drone came late in the air show, but executives said it would support further demand.

"Iran is our best business development partner. Every time they do something like this, it heightens awareness of the threat," said one senior defence industry executive, who asked not to be named.

Mr Edwards said Lockheed's F-35 stealth fighter, selected by Belgium, is poised to win another new order from Poland, while Bulgaria, Slovakia and Romania are also working to replace Soviet-era equipment.

Mr Edwards and other executives said they see no impact from the ongoing trade disputes between US President Donald Trump and the European Union.

US Army Lieutenant-General Charles Hooper, director of the Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency, said Europe accounted for nearly a quarter of the US$55.7 billion (S$75.4 billion) in foreign arms sales his agency handled in its 2018 fiscal year.

He said the US government was making concerted efforts to speed up arms sales approvals and boost sales to help arm allies with American weapons.

Mr Ralph Acaba, president of Raytheon's Integrated Defence Systems, said the firm is working to deliver the Patriot missile system and other weapons in half the typical five-year period.

"Europe is really big for us now, and that's a big change in just the last few years and even the last 18 months," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2019, with the headline 'US arms makers see European demand boom as threats multiply'. Print Edition | Subscribe