Russian invasion spurs European demand for U.S. drones, missiles

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits in a hanger at Amari Air Base, Estonia, July 1, 2020. U.S. unmanned aircraft are deployed in Estonia to support NATO's intelligence-gathering missions in the Baltics. [Reuters]

European governments have approached the U.S. government and defence contractors with a shopping list of arms including drones, missiles and missile defences as the Russian invasion of Ukraine drives renewed demand for U.S. weaponry.

Germany, which is nearing a deal for 35 Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N F-35 jet fighters, has inquired about systems to defend against ballistic missiles, sources familiar with the situation said. 

Meanwhile, Poland urgently wants to purchase sophisticated Reaper drone systems from the United States, a Polish government official said this week. 

Requests are also coming in from other countries in Eastern Europe, where allies are keen to acquire weaponry that Ukraine has successfully used against Russian forces, two people familiar with the demand said, including anti-aircraft Stinger missiles and anti-tank Javelin missiles.

The inquiries come as countries in Europe boost defence budgets to meet an increasingly uncertain security outlook, with Germany, Sweden and Denmark among those promising a sharp increase in spending. 

European allies are "doubling down" on their defence spending, Mara Karlin, a Pentagon assistant secretary of defence, said last week after a congressional hearing where she spoke of "Russian aggression that threatens the territorial integrity of Europe."

Since the sale of arms by U.S. contractors to foreign governments requires U.S. approval, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Administration is having weekly meetings of its European Crisis Management Team to review specific requests related to the current situation in Ukraine, a source said.

To speed up U.S. government approval for sales and transfers of arms produced by American defence contractors, the Pentagon has re-established a team to respond to the increased demand. 

"The Department of Defense is exploring options to support Ukraine's needs, rapidly replenish U.S. inventories and backfill depleted stocks of allies and partners," a senior Defense official said, adding that the Pentagon was working with contractors on ways to "mitigate supply chain constraints (and) accelerate production timelines."

Raytheon Technologies RTX.N and Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N jointly produce Javelins, while Raytheon makes Stingers. The potential for a surge in sales of all types of weaponry since the invasion began Feb. 24 has lifted Lockheed stock 8.3% and Raytheon shares 3.9%.

Raytheon executive Tom Laliberty said the company recognizes "the urgent need to replenish depleted inventories of Javelin and Stinger."

Any significant shift toward the United States as a supplier is likely to trigger a backlash from Europe's fragmented defence industry.

The head of Dassault Aviation AM.PA earlier this month lambasted the German decision to order the F-35, saying it could weaken support for collaborative projects like the Franco-German FCAS fighter shared by Dassault and Airbus. 

Germany is also examining U.S.-made missile defence systems like Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD), although that is not a frontrunner for purchase, a source said.

An opposition politician, for example, has asked about the purchase of the short-range rocket interceptor called Iron Dome to protect Berlin. Decision-making on what to buy is in the early stages.

A German defence ministry spokesman declined to comment.

Germany was already expected to decide on a new heavy-lift helicopter this year, something increased spending could bring forward. Competitors for the approximately 4 billion euro deal include Lockheed Martin's CH-53K King Stallion and Boeing's BA.N H-47 Chinook.

Poland wants to buy several MQ-9 Reaper drones made by General Atomics under a special, accelerated procedure, and is eyeing further procurements later, Lieutenant Colonel Krzysztof Platek, a spokesperson for the Polish Defence Ministry's Armament Agency, said in an interview on Wednesday.

"This order is an answer to (the) ... security situation, particularly in central and eastern Europe," Platek said.

Typically, U.S. defence deals take years of negotiations, approvals and vetting after countries have spent up to several years deciding on their needs.