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Top Ten Foreign Weapons Used by the US Military

Updated on March 20, 2023
Tom Lohr profile image

Tom Lohr is a navy veteran, world traveler, adventurer, baseball fan and hot dog aficionado. He loves dogs and hates political correctness.

The United States is the world's largest weapons exporter. America peddles instruments of death and destruction to the rest of the world to the tune of nearly 40 billion dollars per year. If that seems a little one sided; it is. Our military industry exports far more weaponry than our military imports. While there may be a glaring overall trade deficit in our economy, the arms sector is experiencing robust sales.

Much of the gap can be attributed to the United States having the most innovative and advanced military industry base in the world and it cranks out world class weapons that are on every military's wish list. Even our enemies often seek to reverse engineer some American arms instead of attempting to field something that can compete. But the American military does, on occasion, infuse foreign built or designed weaponry into its arsenal, with the vast majority being of European origin.

Penguin Missile

The Penguin is an anti-ship missile developed and sold by the Norwegian defense manufacturer Konigsberg. While it can be launched from ships and fixed wing aircraft, it was designed to primarily be a helicopter launched weapon.

The missile has been around since 1972, and the United States purchased Penguins in 1993 to give its SH-60 Seahawk helicopter some offensive capability. Designated as the AGM-119, the Penguin helped boost US Navy ships anti-surface capability by allowing ship based helicopters to engage enemy ships or surfaced submarines that they were sent out to detect. While not a massive missile, the 265 pound warhead is designed to detonate after it has pierced a ship's outer hull, thereby inflicting greater damage .


One of the few foreign weapons system that the United States did not acquire from Europe, the NULKA is an active missile decoy. Developed in a joint effort between America and Australia, the MK 53 Decoy Launching System, the electronics packed cylinder works to lure enemy missiles away from ships. Once launched, the precisely tuned rocket motor causes the NULKA to hover a few hundred yards away from the ship and emits missile duping radio signals that causes the incoming weapon to miss its target.

NULKA is derived from an Australian Aboriginal word that means “be quick.” Sound advice when enemy anti-ship cruise missiles are bearing down. It entered service in the US Navy in 1999 and was recently used in combat off of the coast of Yemen when rebels fired missiles at the USS Mason (DDG-87) in October, 2016.

Rolling Airframe Missile

The RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, or RAM, was developed as a point defense weapon in cooperation between the US and German military. It derives its name from the fact that, once launched, it spins on its axis for stabilization much like a bullet fired from a gun.

The RAM has received new updates assuring that it will serve in navies around the world for decades to come. As one of the few missiles with a combined radio frequency (RF) and infrared (IR) seeker head, it rarely misses its target. And that's a good thing, with a relatively short range of under 10 miles, it was designed to be the last line of defense between an enemy missile and a ship.

Modular Handgun System

Leave it to the military to come up with a fancy name for a pistol, which is what that Modular Handgun System is. The fact is that the europeans have always produced superior small arms. This is why the Austrian Glock and other euro brands are coveted by gun owners. And when the US military decided it was time to replace the worn out and unpopular M9 Beretta sidearm, Glock was one of the final contestants in a twelve company competition. But it was the German company Sig Sauer that won the day. The pistol manufacturer will provide the US military with over 280,000 handguns, dubbed the P320. Those numbers will include two variants, a compact and full size version.

MP5 Submachine Gun

This famous bullet sprayer has been around since the mid 1960s. And if we haven't said it enough, european small arms manufacturers rule. The MP5 is made by Heckler and Koch (H&K), a well known german supplier of quality weapons. There are over 100 models of the MP5 for use in military and law enforcement as well as personal protection services.

The stubby gun is used mostly by US special forces operators, including the Navy Seals. They rarely make an appearance in stock combat footage, as the operations in which they are used are typically of the classified nature.


Think of the AT4 as a modern day bazooka. It was crafted to be a light weight and portable anti-tank weapon, although its warhead is not powerful enough to defeat most nations' main battle tanks. It does do a fine job on most other armored vehicles, and it can wreak havoc on buildings and fortifications. It has seen extensive combat in recent US campaigns and is used by a slew of other militaries.

This small but powerful armor buster is built by Saab Bofors Dynamics in Sweden. Those peaceful Swedes make some very deadly weapons, including a line of Saab jet fighter aircraft. And you thought Saab only made cars.

HH-65 Dolphin Helicopter

While the United States Coast Guard (USCG) is know for its humanitarian deeds, it is still an armed force. Plus, if you look at the cannons and missiles on the USCG ships, anyone can pretty much tell the Coast Guard isn't all about rescuing wayward boaters.

The most used helicopter by the organization is the HH-65 Dolphin. The USCG has 100 of the choppers and can be seen hovering and cruising the skies above most of the busiest harbors in the country. The bird was designed and built by the French consortium Eurocopter. It's trademark design feature that gives it away to even the most casual observer is the tail rotor, or lack of one. Instead it uses something called a “fenestron” that looks similar to an encased fan in the tail boom.

Bofors 57mm Gun

Bofors (now part of BAE) is a Swedish company that has produced world class artillery for several centuries. In addition to making anti-air cannons, it is a prolific supplier of naval guns for the US fleet. While the bulk of the US Navy uses much larger deck guns, the appearance of smaller vessels required smaller gunnery. Both the newest class of US Coast Guard cutter and the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships use the Bofors 57mm as its main battery.

Naval Strike Missile

Once upon a time the US Navy had the premiere anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) in the world. The RGM-84 Harpoon and anti-ship variant of the Tomahawk were unmatched in range and lethality. Unfortunately, we forgot the importance of maritime dominance and now the ancient but much upgraded Harpoon is only ASCM we have in the fleet. The Harpoon can hold its own in most cases, but it has been surpassed in range and capability by most nations with a serious navy.

The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is a welcome relief to those that sail in harm's way and testament that we are not done collaborating with the europeans on fielding new weaponry. The NSM is a joint venture between the American arms supplier Raytheon and its Swedish counterpart Konigsberg.

Currently in service in the US Navy, it was one of the three contenders to give the weakly armed Littoral Combat Ships an over-the-horizon surface capability; the other two competitors withdrew leaving the NSM as the only choice for the Littoral Combat Ship and, with its much better range, the heir apparent to the aging Harpoon.

AV8B Harrier

The Harrier vertical/short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) aircraft has been in the air for the US Marine Corps for so long it is difficult to remember that it is really a British design. The aerospace company Hawker Siddeley did the lion's share of VSTOL aircraft development and produced the only fully functional type in the world, and nearly 50 years after its introduction it is still flying.

It is understandably a tricky contraption to fly, but being able to take off from something as rough as a forest clearing made the airplane perfect fit for US Marines. The United States began a program to partner with the British to improve the aircraft resulting in the AV8B Harrier or as it is known in England the Harrier II.

The Harrier's reign is coming to a close, but we can thank British engineering for the venerable aircraft that filled a very specific aviation niche. The AV8B is expected to remain in service for nearly another decade, but its replacement, the VSTOL version of the F-35, is slowly replacing it. And in a strange turnabout of events, the British will replace their Harriers with the US designed F-35.

Think you know where that US military gets its weaponry? Think again. Some interesting players supply our armed forces.


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