By Mike Mount, CNN Senior National Security Producer
International weapons sales by the United States tripled last year to a record high of $66.3 billion, according to a congressional report that noted big fighter jet and helicopter purchases by Saudi Arabia.
The data by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service noted an "extraordinary increase" over 2010, saying the total U.S. figure accounted for almost 78 percent of sales globally.
Russia followed the United States at $4.8 billion with France at $4.4 billion, according to the report, "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2004-2011."
China's 2011 sales were at $2.1 billion but focused less on large weapons platforms such as planes and more on smaller weapons, selling them to Asian countries and to African nations, the report said.
The data allows members of Congress to see "the level of arms transfers by major weapons suppliers to nations in the developing world ... where most the potential for the outbreak of regional military conflicts currently is greatest and where the greatest proportion of the conventional arms trade is conducted," according to the report.
A number of countries in the near-East and Asia, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, continued or resumed large-scale weapons purchases because of continued threats from Iran.
Saudi Arabia was the biggest buyer of arms from the United States, making up about half of the 2011 total at $33.4 billion, according to the report.
Saudi Arabia bought some 84 new F-15 fighter jets to add to its fleet as well as upgrades for 70 others. The purchase also included ammunition and missiles for the planes. Saudi Arabia also bought numerous Apache attack helicopters and multi-use Blackhawk helicopters.
With its very close proximity to Iran, the United Arab Emirates bought an advanced missile shield system called the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and its corresponding radar systems for almost $3.5 billion. The U.A.E. also bought $939 million worth of Chinook transport helicopters.
Oman bought 18 F-16 fighter jets for $1.4 billion.
"For certain developing nations in these regions, the strength of their individual economies appears to be a key factor in their decisions to proceed with major arms purchases," according to the report.
Last year was the eighth-straight year the United States led global arms sales. The United States and Russia made up almost 70 percent of weapons sales in the developing world between 2008-11.
While the United States showed huge growth in sales, the international arms market is, "not likely growing at all," according to the report.
"There continue to be significant constraints on its (international arms market) growth, due, in particular, to the weakened state of the global economy," the report said.