5 Things Your Tax Dollars Bought for the Pentagon in May

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Budget Battle
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Fresh off its tax windfall in April, and flush with funds, the Department of Defense spent with abandon throughout the month of May. After laying out $35.4 billion for purchases of military goods and services in April, the Pentagon signed contracts worth a further $26.1 billion in May.

And no, none of this includes the cost of paying servicemembers' salaries, which added billions of dollars more to the expense.

That said, let's give credit where credit is due. The Pentagon may be a big spender (of your money). But at least it's more open about how it spends that money, and on what, than most government agencies are. Every day of the week, 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.

Here are the top five items that jumped out at us last month.

Every Little Boy Wants to Grow Up to Be a Fireman ... or a Soldier

Lucky for the Pentagon, they get to be both. One of the earliest contracts handed out at the Pentagon last month went to Wisconsin-based Oshkosh (b'gosh!). Valued at just $9 million, it will purchase "13 low-rate initial production vehicles" for the U.S. Navy, and pay for their "vehicle federal retail excise tax" as well.

The Pentagon didn't actually say what those "production vehicles" were in the contract announcement. But with a little digging, we were able to come up with the likely answer: fire trucks (for extinguishing fires on crashed fighter jets).

Pants -- Everybody Needs 'Em

And when you're based in an area with lots of ticks, mosquitoes and other pesky critters, you really want a pair of pants soaked in insect repellant. That's why in early May, the U.S. Army awarded Tennessee trouser-tailor Tullahoma Industries a $59 million award to supply it with a (presumably large) number of "various permethrin trousers" for use in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Puerto Rico.

This is the third such pants purchase the Army has placed with Tullahoma in the past three years.

Napoleon's Army Marched on Its Stomach. Today's Army Travels by Air

Moving rapidly up the dollar-value ladder, we come next to a big order placed by the U.S. Army, which will be buying $2 billion worth of T700 701D/401C helicopter engines from General Electric (GE) over the next five years. Although the money's being routed through the Army, the Pentagon states that these engines are actually destined for buyers in the Navy, Air Force and foreign militaries as well.

The wide usage is explained by the T700's wide-ranging capabilities. This engine powers everything from Army Black Hawk helicopters to Navy Seahawks to Bell Vipers for the Marine Corps.

What Flies Higher Than a Helicopter?

Nearly as big as the GE contract, Lockheed Martin (LMT) won a $735 million award from the U.S. Air Force this month. In exchange for the money, Lockheed will maintain the Advanced Extremely High Frequency, Milstar and Defense Satellite Communications System III satellite systems for the Air Force. Lockheed describes AEHF as a "jam-resistant" system used by U.S., Canadian, U.K. and Dutch commanders and warfighters to communicate securely on the ground, at sea and in the air.

AEHF is expected to become operational this year, when its six satellites will begin replacing the legacy five-satellite Milstar secure communications satellite constellation, and the broader, less secure Defense Satellite Communications System III as well.

Military Mad Men

Last but not least, in one of the final contract awards of the month, the U.S. Navy contracted with British advertising firm WPP (WPPGY) -- more specifically, with its New York City subsidiary, Young & Rubicam -- to run "advertising and marketing services in support of the Navy Recruiting Advertising Program" for the next year. Initially valued at $84 million, the Navy has the option of extending WPP's contract by as much as four more years -- for a total potential contract value of $457 million. Apparently, it takes more than a few dollars to locate "a few good men."

These contracts represent only a small sampling of the hundreds of awards your tax dollars funded last month. To see the rest, check out the Department of Defense contracts website.

Intrigued by the recruiting contract, Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith did some digging, and discovered that the U.S. Navy aims to recruit 43,798 sailors and officers this year. That means it will cost taxpayers more than $1,900 to find each one. Interesting.

Rich has no position in any stocks mentioned. Follow him on Facebook for more defense news. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Co. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days and check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.
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