Defense News Roundup: Army Gets Ray Guns, Allies Get Rockets

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 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 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.

Raytheon's painful, but not lethal, Active Denial System. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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' 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
'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.

Last week, the Air Force placed a follow-on order with United Technologies for $18 million, to supply it with 5,434 replacement fan blades for the F119 PW-100 turbofan engines that power the F-22. To date, UTC has won orders worth $1.8 billion under this contract.

You get a Javelin! And you get a Javelin! Everybody ... gets ... a Javelin! -- from Raytheon
The Pentagon also spent some cash on weapons that may actually get used, of course. With war talk heating up over Syria, Friday saw the Navy place a $68 million order for anti-tank missiles for the Marines -- and not just the Marines.

The Javelin Joint Venture between Lockheed Martin and Raytheon has been instructed to supply the USMC, and also the allied militaries of militaries Indonesia and -- here's the crucial part -- Jordan, and Oman, with 260 Javelin tactical anti-tank missiles. Up-arming these Gulf allies may suggest preparations for allied intervention in the Syrian civil war, or it may indicate only that nations in the area are taking steps to prepare against any expansion of hostilities beyond the Syrian border.

Raytheon's "Javelin": Not just for the Olympics anymore. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Either way, in combination with a similar $53.4 million Javelin contract placed back in May, and assuming a $260,000-per-Javelin cost, this suggests there will soon be as many as 465 more Javelins in the world soon, spread out among the U.S. and its allies. At whom will all these anti-tank missiles be pointed?

Stay tuned.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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