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US firms dominate Asia's largest airshow as Trump looks to boost arms exports

  • The presence of high-level diplomats from the American defense, commerce and state departments distinguished the 2018 Singapore Airshow from previous editions.
  • President Donald Trump's "Buy American" plan calls on U.S. officials and military attaches to help increase exports of American arms.
A Lockheed Martin F-35B fighter jet on static display during the Singapore Airshow on February 7, 2018.
Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images
A Lockheed Martin F-35B fighter jet on static display during the Singapore Airshow on February 7, 2018.

The world's largest economy boasted the largest international presence at this year's Singapore Airshow as President Donald Trump makes a push to increase his country's global arms exports.

The Singapore event is billed as "Asia's largest aerospace and defense event," so participation is one indication of overall interest in the region. The U.S. occupied 30 percent of the airshow's total indoor exhibit space in addition to static aircraft displays, which included the Southeast Asian debut of Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets.

The presence of high-level diplomats from the defense, commerce and state departments also distinguished the annual aviation event from previous editions. They included Mira Ricardel, under secretary of commerce for export administration, bureau of industry and security; Lieutenant General Charles Hooper, director of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency and Tina Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.

The notable U.S. attendance comes on the heels of Washington's "Buy America" plan. In early January, Reuters reported that the White House was nearing completion of a policy that calls on U.S. diplomats and military attaches to help increase exports of American arms.

The strategy effectively turns U.S. officials into high-level salesmen for military hardware, and could boost international growth for Americandefense contractors.

The country's robust participation at the air show "is not surprising," Hooper said in a statement. "America not only delivers the most effective defense systems, but we offer a 'Total Package' approach through Foreign Military Sales, including the provision of training, maintenance and sustainment to support our partners' full spectrum capabilities."

The president's policies highlighted the importance of American goods, Kaidanow told CNBC. It should come as no surprise that both the government and private companies were aligned in their goals, she added.

Addressing reporters earlier, Kaidanow declined to specify whether her team was inking any new military sales deals at the Singapore Airshow, but noted that "there are lots of things in development on all sides."

Diplomats at the show provided support for U.S. companies and reaffirmed the security importance of the region, she explained.

Kaidanow, who was in Vietnam last week for the U.S.-Vietnam Political, Security, and Defense Dialogue, also encouraged Southeast Asian governments to have strong voices on issues such as freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and counter-terrorism.