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 2014. (A further $5.6 billion a week goes to pay the salaries and benefits of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen). Splurging during the holiday season, they went a bit over budget this week, placing orders for equipment and services worth $7.33 billion.
And what did they get for their (read: "our") money?
Gouged at the pump
The biggest charge appearing on the Pentagon's credit card statement this week will be for gas -- or, more precisely, "aviation turbine fuel," the nearly colorless premium petroleum product that powers American military jet aircraft. The U.S. Defense Logistics Agency bought $5.04 billion worth of the stuff this week, with ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) winning the two biggest contracts -- $873 million and $1.64 billion, respectively.
Upgraded fighter jets ...
And a good thing, too, because America has a lot of fighter jets needing fill-ups. On Thursday, the Air Force tasked Boeing (NYSE:BA) with performing $873 million worth of system upgrades on its fighter jet fleet -- F/A-18 A/B and C/D Hornets, F/A-18 E/F series Super Hornets, and even EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft. The exact number of planes being upgraded wasn't revealed, nor the precise nature of the upgrades. All we know is that, at close to $1 billion in cost, the effort must be significant.
... and Cold War bombers, too
By comparison, the $10 million that the Pentagon spent hiring Exelis (UNKNOWN:XLS.DL) to repair its radio frequency surveillance/electronic countermeasure systems aboard B-1 bombers was relative pocket change. Still, a worthy investment. Each B-1 cost U.S. taxpayers about $281 million to build. You don't want to risk having one of them shot out of the sky because somebody forgot to replace a fuse.
"Please feed the dolphins"
Finally, on a lighter note, let's wrap up with what's certainly the most unusual defense contract of the week.
Did you know that we have dolphins in U.S. military service? It's true. Sea lions, too, apparently. They all work for the U.S. Navy's Navy Marine Mammal Program, or NMMP, helping our warships detect and avoid seaborne anti-ship mines. And they work up an appetite doing this. Following the precept that "thou salt not muzzle the ox when he treaded out the corn," the Pentagon awarded Science Applications International (UNKNOWN:SAI.DL) a $10 million contract for the care and feeding (and training) of its dolphins.
Thanks for all the great stock tips, Pentagon!
You don't always have to look far to find good investments. Sometimes, profiting from our increasingly global economy can be as easy as investing in your own backyard -- and the Pentagon's helpful habit of publishing all its contracts daily as they're awarded certainly makes that easier.
Want to find more "easy to understand" investments? Read The Motley Fool's free report "3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World" shows you how. Click here to get instant access to one free copy.
Fool contributor Rich Smith and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.