Eric Woods is a freelance journalist and researcher, focusing on issues such as the proliferation of illegal weapons, the dynamics of non-state actors, and public educational opportunities. You can reach him on Twitter @Er_Woods
Since the beginning of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, individual states in the United States, such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Arizona, have exported hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to public data released by the U.S. government, a total of 11 states and the District of Columbia have exported more than $100 million in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The following uses open source data provided by the U.S. government to map up to $6.8 billion in bombs, rocket launchers, machine guns, and other weapons.
The top five states for these commodities (excluding the $737 million in exports from the District of Columbia) are North Carolina, Arizona, Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas. The remaining places are New Mexico, Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
Some of these exports may be related to suspected war crimes. According to Bellingcat’s previous report, the identification markings of the American bombs used in the Dahyan bus bombing that killed at least 40 children and 11 adults showed that some of these bombs were produced in Pennsylvania, which is the number one place in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Five major arms exporters. The parts found in the accident led to the Texas manufacturer, which suggests that even small exporters can play a huge role in possible human rights violations.
The Census Bureau uses a six-digit international commodity standard called the Harmonized Commodity Name and Coding System (HS) to organize data. These HS codes cover everything from agricultural products to military gun parts. Using these codes, all other commodities exported to Saudi Arabia and the UAE between 2015 and March 2019 were filtered from the data set.
The data can be viewed from the origin or starting point. Unless otherwise stated (as done in the Wilmington and Tucson examples), all data used is origin data.
Although not visualized, the written part of the analysis contains census information about which US port the weapons are exported from.
Due to the relatively high rate of private gun ownership in Saudi Arabia, which may distort the data, shotguns, pistols and parts are not included in the data set. The total exports included $48,222,682 of bombs, landmines and missiles exported to the UAE, which were classified as "unknown" sources by census data.
The six codes used for this particular data set follow the definition contained in the 2018 U.S. tariff schedule. The six codes and the products covered are:
930110 = Military artillery weapons (such as mortars, howitzers)
930120 = Rocket launcher, grenade launcher, laser tube and flamethrower
930190 = Machine guns, military rifles and military shotguns
930591 = Military weapon parts
930690 = Bombs, missiles, grenades, mines, ammunition and their parts
However, census data has its limitations and should not be mistaken for comprehensive statistics on US arms sales. For example, the code 930111 (self-propelled artillery weapon) shows that the M142 HIMARS system is not sold to the UAE. However, information from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that within the time span covered by the census data, US$143 million worth of HIMARS was delivered to the UAE. The Saudi-led coalition uses the HIMARS system in Yemen.
By far, the largest exporter is North Carolina. From 2015 to March 2019, North Carolina mainly transferred more than $1.9 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia. North Carolina has only $15 million in goods shipped to the United Arab Emirates.
The largest category of commodities produced and exported by North Carolina is the code 930690 commodity-a general term for bombs, missiles, grenades and landmines. Although the United States is not a party to the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, it has committed to destroying stockpiles of landmines not used in South Korea since 2014. Although "landmines" are part of the 930690 umbrella, most of the commodities leaving North Carolina are likely to be high-value aerospace commodities. North Carolina has the world’s largest US military base and a strong and growing defense industry. This is supported by various public relations efforts to promote the state as a cheap option for aerospace and defense manufacturing.
Data from specific ports shows that most cargo destined for Saudi Arabia leaves through the Wilmington Seaport in North Carolina, making it the largest point of departure for the United States to ship military supplies to Saudi Arabia. A representative of the North Carolina Port Authority did not answer questions about whether the port promotes foreign arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Arizona is the second largest source of weapons, providing USD 1.2 billion to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since 2015. In 2017 alone, Arizona exported 328 million U.S. dollars worth of bombs, missiles and related goods to the UAE and nearly 478 million U.S. dollars to Saudi Arabia.
These huge numbers can be attributed to the large presence of the Tucson aerospace industry. Raytheon’s Missile Systems Division is located in Tucson and is the highest revenue-generating company in North America to manufacture missiles.
Raytheon’s Tucson division and Lockheed Martin’s Pennsylvania branch produce Paveway II guided bomb kits. Devices used in some of the most high-profile bombings in Yemen.
Raytheon is one of the largest employers in Arizona, with 12,000 employees, slightly lower than the number of employees employed by McDonald's in Arizona.
Arizona’s exports are not limited to high-value aerospace products. Since Saudi Arabia began to intervene in Yemen, more than $41 million in artillery and nearly $27 million in machine guns and other military guns have flowed to Saudi Arabia. Contrary to North Carolina, port data from the Census Bureau shows that these goods are produced in Arizona and shipped out of the country through Tucson, rather than through California seaports.
Alabama ranks third with $789 million. Among them, 719 million U.S. dollars is for bombs, missiles and related products to the UAE. Alabama exports more goods to the UAE than any place outside the District of Columbia. Lockheed, Raytheon, BAE Systems, and Boeing all have important operations in Alabama.
Massachusetts is the largest exporter of machine guns and military rifles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with an export value of $55 million. Since the beginning of the Yemen War, Pennsylvania ranked second with 45 million U.S. dollars, and Nevada ranked third with 35 million U.S. dollars. Since the data set does not include pistols and any other gun exports that may flow to Saudi Arabia's large civilian gun market, this is a conservative estimate of the overall US gun sales to the two countries.
New Hampshire is the largest exporter of rocket launchers and grenade launchers, with an export value of $61 million. Massachusetts ranked second with 49 million U.S. dollars, and Pennsylvania ranked third with 45 million U.S. dollars. As the New Hampshire Public Radio reported for the first time, at least some of these goods departed through the Port of Baltimore.
One of the most important questions raised by the US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE is what do these numbers mean? Are goods produced in certain states of the United States really related to the death of civilians in Yemen and even potential war crimes? The answer is yes.
The Dahyan bus bombing on the morning of August 9, 2018 killed dozens of children and injured many others. Bellingcat previously traced the fragments of the Paveway II bomb kit to Lockheed Martin. The Paveway II bomb kit turns unguided "dumb" bombs into laser-guided ammunition.
Running CAGE numbers on Paveway II fragments through a publicly available database led to the production of Paveway II at the Lockheed, Pennsylvania plant. Pennsylvania is the fourth largest arms exporter to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In 2016, Lockheed's Pennsylvania plant "quadrupled" the production of Paveway II kits.
The other CAGE numbers on the fragments lead to a branch of General Dynamics in Texas, where the actual bomb shell of the MK82 is produced. MK82 is the actual bomb connected to the Paveway II kit. Texas ranks 19th in bombs and bomb exports, which highlights that even small exporters will eventually play a huge role in potential human rights violations.
Using open source government data, we can learn more about the opaque world of US arms sales. As part of foreign military aid and direct sales between defense contractors and unspecified countries, billions of dollars of weapons are produced each year. The data here is the epitome of billions of arms sales.
These sales will rise. The Trump administration has designated 2019 as a landmark year for the removal of arms control measures. The first is to promote the suspension of the classification of semi-automatic rifles and sniper rifles as weapons and to control their exports from the State Council. The second is to "cancel" the U.S. Arms Trade Treaty. The third is to use legal loopholes to promote arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE without the approval of Congress.
Since intervening in Yemen in 2015, Saudi and UAE aircraft have carried out more than 18,500 air strikes, destroying hundreds of schools, farms, hospitals and markets. As of March 2018, the Saudi and UAE forces have carried out 161 air strikes on the weapon arsenal and 221 air strikes on the school. Conservative estimates say that more than 85,000 children have died due to human famine caused by the conflict. Although the United Nations stated that further strikes could lead to "the worst famine in the world in 100 years," Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates continued to strike.
I would like to thank John Polish of Stop US Arms to Mexico for his introduction while browsing the Census website and the Arms Trade Forum for his inspiration on this article.
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