NEW YORK - With a record overseas weapons sales amounting to $66.3 billion, the United States was by far the biggest arms supplier in the global arms market in 2011, according to a new study for Congress.

The amount represented tripling of the sales from 2010, and the New York Times, which obtained the report, said, “That’s more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion. Russia was a distant second with $4.8 billion in deals.” It’s also more than twice the previous US arms sales record, set in 2009.

The Times noted that the sales were driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions.

The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totalled nearly $31 billion.

A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman - to purchase American weapons at record levels, the Times said.

These Gulf states do not share a border with Iran, and their arms purchases focused on expensive warplanes and complex missile defence systems.

Among other significant weapons deals by the United States last year included a $4.1 billion agreement with India for 10 C-17 transport planes and with Taiwan for Patriot antimissile batteries valued at $2 billion - an arms deal that outraged officials in Beijing, the newspaper said.

The report was prepared by the independent Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress. The annual study, written by Richard Grimmett and Paul Kerr and delivered to Congress on Friday, is considered the most detailed collection of unclassified arms sales data available to the public.

The agreements with Saudi Arabia included the purchase of 84 advanced F-15 fighters, a variety of ammunition, missiles and logistics support, and upgrades of 70 of the F-15 fighters in the current fleet.

Sales to Saudi Arabia last year also included dozens of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, all contributing to a total Saudi weapons deal from the United States of $33.4 billion, according to the study.

The United Arab Emirates purchased a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, an advanced antimissile shield that includes radars and is valued at $3.49 billion, as well as 16 Chinook helicopters for $939 million.

Oman bought 18 F-16 fighters for $1.4 billion.

In keeping with recent trends, most of the weapons purchases, worth about $71.5 billion, were made by developing nations, with about $56.3 billion of that from the United States.

To compare weapons sales over various years, the study used figures in 2011 dollars, with amounts for previous years adjusted for inflation to provide a consistent measurement.

A policy goal of the United States has been to work with Arab allies in the Persian Gulf to knit together a regional missile defense system to protect cities, oil refineries, pipelines and military bases from an Iranian attack, the dispatch said.

The effort has included deploying radars to increase the range of early warning coverage across the Persian Gulf, as well as introducing command, control and communications systems that could exchange that information with new batteries of missile interceptors sold to the individual nations.

The missile shield in the Persian Gulf is being built on a country-by-country basis - with these costly arms sales negotiated bilaterally between the United States and individual nations.