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US Continues to Lead World in Weapons Exports

FILE - US Navy sailors shoot M-16 assault rifles aboard the USS Arleigh Burke. The global defense market rose by $6.6 billion in 2015, up to a total of $65 billion.

The United States continues to hold the title of the world’s top weapons exporter, supplying almost $23 billion worth of weapons to other countries last year — particularly in the Middle East — according to a new report by the leading global source of such information.

The consulting firm IHS Jane's released its annual Global Defense Trade Report Sunday, showing the global defense market rose by $6.6 billion in 2015, up to a total of $65 billion. U.S. exports of nearly $23 billion represent an increase of $10 billion since the 2009 report.

“The global defense trade market has never seen an increase as large as the one we saw between 2014 and 2015,” said Ben Moores, senior analyst at IHS. “2015 was a record-breaking year.”

French arms sales more than doubled in 2015 from the year before, rising from $8 billion to $18 billion. If that rate continues, the report said, France will overtake Russia as the second largest defense exporter by 2018.

The increase in global arms sales last year was driven largely by increased demand from countries in the Middle East, which dominated the top of the list and received around $21.6 billion worth of equipment deliveries, including $8.8 billion from the U.S.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates alone accounted for more than half of the weapons purchases in the Middle East — around 17.5 percent of all global defense imports — at $11.4 billion. That’s an increase of nearly $3 billion over 2014.

Saudi Arabia, which was the single largest weapons importer last year, purchased several types of aircraft, precision-guided weapons, along with drones and other surveillance equipment, as it battles rebels in Yemen and tries to keep up with rival Iran.

Following the relaxation of sanctions levied against Iran by Western countries as part of the nuclear deal, Iran is looking to update its old air force equipment, and is likely to increase trade with Russia. According to the report, Iran could eventually spend between $40 billion and $60 billion replacing the aging aircraft fleet.

Egypt has greatly increased the amount of money it spends on defense, up to $2.3 billion last year, making it the world’s fourth-largest importer.

Southeast Asian countries bordering the South China Sea also ramped up their defense spending since 2009 — around 71 percent — in an effort to counter Chinese influence in and around disputed waters.

Authors of the report expect defense trade will continue to expand, and in 2016 will be worth around $69 billion.