By Mike Stone
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States for the first time in years is sending its diplomat responsible for foreign military sales to the Singapore Airshow to promote U.S.-made weapons, a U.S. official said on Thursday, as the State Department prepares for an overseas arms sales push.
The attendance of Ambassador Tina Kaidanow at the Feb. 6-10 air show, the most important in the Asia Pacific region, is aimed at boosting sales for U.S. arms manufacturers such as F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp and missile manufactured by Raytheon Co.
President Donald Trump’s administration is nearing completion of a new “Buy American” initiative that calls for U.S. military attaches and diplomats to play a much bigger role in the sale of billions of dollars more in business overseas.
“We will be working at strengthening our advocacy at every level of the embassy, from your commercial officer, up through your ambassador,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters on Thursday.
Singapore could be seen as the test case for the Trump administration’s new strategy of having the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department take a more active role in securing foreign arms deals, which require State Department approval.
For the first time since at least 2009, the U.S. delegation at the air show will include the top State Department official overseeing arms sales. Kaidanow holds that role with the title principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. In recent years the U.S. Department of State sent an undersecretary.
The U.S. exported $49.5 billion of aerospace and defense products to Asia-Pacific in 2016, compared to European demand of $49.8 billion, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data.
The official said of the “Buy America” initiative, “I would expect with all of the energy the U.S. government is putting behind this, as well as all of the energy the companies are putting behind this, that I would hope to see very good numbers” for foreign military sales.
The State Department said in a statement that Kaidanow “will hold consultations on defense trade issues and promote more than 150 U.S. companies and trade organizations exhibiting the latest aerospace technologies.”
Demand for U.S.-made arms is high and foreign military sales in fiscal 2017, comprising the final months of Obama’s term and much of Trump’s first year in office, climbed to $42 billion, compared to $31 billion in the prior year, according to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Remy Nathan, vice president for international affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association aid, “The Asia-Pacific region was our industry’s largest regional export destination for several years before Europe overtook it in 2016.”
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)