5 Things Your Taxes Bought for the Pentagon in September

Defense Department Journalists
Manuel Balce Ceneta/APDefense Secretary Ash Carter
Another month, another big spending bill for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Every day of the week, the U.S. DoD updates U.S. taxpayers on what contracts it's issued, to whom, and for how much -- all right out in the open on its website. In some ways, this makes the supposedly secretive Pentagon one of the most open of government agencies when it comes to public disclosure.

For the month of September, this transparency let us watch in near real time as the Pentagon awarded just over $34.76 billion in new defense contracts. It was a big number, and expectedly so, as Pentagon acquisitions specialists worked feverishly to spend all the money Congress had allocated to them for fiscal year 2015, before the calendar flipped over to fiscal year 2016.

Here are a few of the things they spent their (which is to say your) money on:

Droning On

One of the month's biggest contracts went to defense contracting heavyweight Northrop Grumman (NOC). Northrop was awarded a $3.2 billion contract to pay for "Global Hawk development, modernization, retrofit, and sustainment activities for all Air Force variants" through 2020. The Global Hawk is America's premier high-flying robotic spy plane, capable of remaining airborne for as long as 32 hours without refueling. The Air Force often talks of plans to use it as a replacement for the manned U-2 spy plane.

Tanks to Our Good Friends

In a possible typographic error -- and an indication of how confused things can get when a government agency is trying to shovel $35 billion out the door and has only 21 workdays to get the job done -- the Pentagon announced it is awarding a $358 million foreign military sales contract to convert 150 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks owned by the Moroccan Army to the "M1A1 situational awareness configuration." The Pentagon then announced a near-verbatim duplicate of this contract the very next day...

Depending on whether this was a mistake, the contract could be worth in excess of $700 million to defense contractor General Dynamics (GD), which builds the Abrams, and won the contract to upgrade Morocco's Abramses.

Water, Water, Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

American Water Works (AWK) isn't the kind of company you'd ordinarily think of as a "defense contractor." Yet its subsidiary, American Water Operations and Maintenance, won a $299 million contract in September for "operation and maintenance of water distribution and wastewater collection systems at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California."

What's notable about this contract isn't just its size, though, but its duration. AWW gets to run Vandenberg's water works for the next 50 years -- through 2066!

To Infinity and Beyond!

Did you know that the U.S. Pentagon -- and specifically the Air Force -- is also responsible for sending American government and military satellites into space? It's true. And in fulfillment of this mission, and in an effort to plan ahead for future spacelift requirements, the U.S. Air Force awarded United Launch Alliance an $882 million contract to pay for Atlas V and Delta IV rockets' "launch capability, mission integration, base and range support, [and] maintenance commodities."

Then the Air Force awarded ULA a second contract, this one worth $233 million, to pay for one actual Atlas V 411 rocket and one Delta IV rocket as well. Also included in the order: "two pre-priced contract line items for the Atlas V 411 and Delta IV M+(5,2) LV configurations."

Add 'em up, and that's more than $1.1 billion worth of rockets.

The Nuclear Arms Race. That's Still a Thing?

Make that transportation rockets, because the Pentagon also spends a lot of money on rockets with less specific purposes. In fact, the Pentagon saved one of its most surprising contracts for last, announcing on Sept. 30 a $392 million award to buy new Trident II (D5) intercontinental ballistic missiles for Navy submarines from Lockheed Martin (LMT).

So if you're disturbed by continual news reports of terrorist incidents, and of ISIS blowing up historic monuments in Syria, if you pine for the simpler days when all we had to worry about was mutually assured destruction, rest easy. Turns out, the nuclear arms race is alive and well.

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

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith sometimes wonders how many folks in the media remember that the term "Generation X" was originally popularized by a book about a band of kids living in the Coachella Valley, daydreaming about mushroom clouds and global thermonuclear war. Follow him on Facebook for all the latest in defense news.

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