The U.S. military has a reputation as a somewhat secretive organization. But in one respect at least, the Pentagon is one of the most “open” of our government agencies. Every day of the week, rain or shine, the Department of Defense tells U.S. taxpayers what contracts it’s issued, to whom, and for how much — all right out in the open on its website.
So what has the Pentagon been up to this week?
DoD is budgeted to spend about $6.2 billion a week on military hardware, infrastructure projects, and supplies in fiscal 2013. (A further $5.6 billion a week goes to pay the salaries and benefits of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen.) Now, with this past week having been a day short of the usual, you might expect the generals to spend a bit less than $6.2 billion. But you may be shocked to learn how much less the Pentagon spent last week — what with America being perhaps just days away from starting a new war: $1.89 billion.That’s the sum total of Pentagon contract awards last week. And what will we get for that money?
Ray guns from General Dynamics
Probably the most interesting contract awarded over the past week was the $49 million that General Dynamics Corporation (NYSE:GD) got to perform additional research for the U.S. Air Force into a category of non-lethal weapons known as “directed energy.” Typified by the “Active Denial Systems” that Raytheon Company (NYSE:RTN) began delivering to the Air Force several years ago, non-lethal directed energy weapons aim to control crowds and deter attackers — without killing anyone — by firing beams of invisible millimeter-wave radiation.
The sensation when struck by one of these directed energy weapons has been described as akin to having “a [lit] light bulb … pressed against the skin.” Painful. Something you’ll instinctively move away from. But not lethal.
That’s the theory, at least. For $49 million, spent over the next seven years, General Dynamics Corporation (NYSE:GD)’ task will be to research the real-world effects that directed energy weapons have on “bio-mechanisms” (e.g., humans), to find out whether this is something the Pentagon should be buying.
Fan blades for Lockheed Martin’s wunder-plane
Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT)‘s F-22 Raptor fighter jet may be the most expensive fighter plane ever built … but never used in combat. The Pentagon spent $80 billion building 187 F-22s for the Air Force yet never used them in combat in Iraq, in Afghanistan, or even in Libya. Still, the birds do fly in peace on occasion, and that wears on the plane parts, requiring that those parts be replaced from time to time.