President Donald Trump is requesting a $54 billion increase in defense spending — a nearly 10 percent increase over the $582.7 billion budget former President Barack Obama proposed for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2017.
The federal budget in 2016 was $4 trillion, so $54 billion would be just about 1.35 percent of the budget that year.
Nonetheless, the number is really too big to fully comprehend, so to make it more manageable, here’s what “We, the People,” might get for $54 billion in defense spending. For the sake of comparison, we’re going to throw in what we could do with that amount of money in non-defense spending, as well.
1. 570 F-35 Fighters
The F-35 Lighting II is the U.S. fighter jet of choice for the foreseeable future, replacing the stalwart F-16. Though its development was plagued by cost overruns and delays, the U.S. Marine Corps deployed its first squadron in July 2015, followed by the Air Force in August 2016. The base model — not the kind for short runways or aircraft carriers — is expected to cost about $94.6 million per plane, based on a lot that includes 55 jets for the United States and 35 for allied countries (which are paying for their own planes) to be delivered in 2018.
The U.S. plans to buy 2,457 of the planes.
2. Fund NASA for 2.7 years
NASA’s budget for 2017 was $19.5 billion, less than half of 1 percent of the federal budget. In an unrelated tip, if you want ring tones that no one else will have (save for people reading this story) go here.
3. 12 Zumwalt-class destroyers
The U.S. Navy’s newest class of vessel, the Zumwalt-class destroyer, looks a bit like it’s from the future, or maybe from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The Navy was initially going to order 24 of the ships, but due to development cost overruns the order has been reduced to three ships at about $4.24 billion each.
Alternatively, the $54 billion could be applied to purchasing ammunition for one of the Zumwalt’s super high-tech guns. At a cost of $800,000 per shell, we could buy 67,500 of those.
4. Fund the National Park Service for 12.5 years
This estimate is based on the fiscal year 2017 budget request of $4.3 billion, a figure that includes $3.1 billion in discretionary spending and $1.2 billion in mandatory spending.
5. Buy 1,500 years worth of Army ammo
The 5.56 mm round is most commonly used in the M-16 rifles, M-4 carbines and M-249 machine guns. According to U.S. Army budget documents, they cost $34.9 million in 2015, a figure that includes the standard ammunition used in training and combat, along with tracer rounds, test rounds and other types. The purchase is meant to procure ammunition to be used that year, along with some extra to maintain a war stockpile. At that rate of purchase, $54 billion worth would last 1,547 years. (Of course, that doesn’t account for the bullets used by other branches of the military.)
6. Prop up the U.S. Postal Service for a decade
Fewer and fewer people are sending mail, and the U.S. Postal Service is bleeding money. (The Postal Service relies on sale of postage, products and services — not tax dollars — to fund its operations.) At the current rate of loss — about $5.6 billion last year — $54 billion would be enough to keep the doors open for 9.6 years. That would not get people to start sending letters again, however.
7. Pay for just over half of a new ICBM system
We stopped building new nuclear weapons in the 1990’s, but the various branches of the military (mostly Air Force and Navy) continue to refurbish the existing stockpile. Designing and building a replacement for our roughly 450 aging Minuteman III missiles (land-based ICBMs that date to the 1970s) was recently reported to cost about $100 billion (it’s not clear over how long a period).
8. Fund the National Endowment for the Arts for 360 years
9. 20 Virginia-class submarines
The Virginia-class attack submarine was developed after the end of the Cold War, when military minds decided the Seawolf-class would be too expensive going forward. The pair of subs expected to be purchased this year will run about $2.7 billion each. There are 24 active of a planned 48, and they could remain in service as long as 2070.
10. A stack of $1 bills 3,666 miles high
The really big rubber band to hold it all together would cost extra, but a stack of 54 billion $1 bills would be about 3,666 miles high. The International Space Station has an orbital height of about 205 miles. Geostationary satellites orbit at about 22,000 miles high, so it would be well below that. The moon is 238,855 miles away, so our money pile would only reach about 1.5 percent of the way there.
11. Buy 6,067 M1A2 Abrams tanks
Costs on this one are a bit difficult to pin down. In fiscal year 1999, they ran about $6.2 million apiece, so inflation-adjusted numbers would put the cost of one at $8.9 million each now. The military keeps buying and refurbishing these tanks, in part to keep the sole U.S. tank factory operating. As a consequence, the military has far more of these vehicles than needed.
12. Pay college tuition for 2.7 million students for a year
The College Board estimates that the average tuition (undergraduate, public, in-state), fees, room and board for the 2016-17 school year was a bit more than $20,000. As of 2014, there were 17.3 million students enrolled in undergraduate programs in the United States. The years don’t match, but it gives us a ballpark figure that suggests the money would cover a bit more than 15 percent of students.
13. Buy 2,700 Predator drone packages
These drones, according to the Air Force, come in units of four for $20 million, which includes the four drones with sensors, a ground control station and satellite link. The missiles it shoots are extra. There are currently 150 in service.
14. Fund 6.4 percent of needed U.S. road work
The American Society of Civil Engineers, in its 2017 report card, estimates the United States needs to come up with $836 billion to take care of a backlog of highway projects, including repairs to existing roads and bridges, as well expansion in some places. A $54 billion infusion could take care of a tidy chunk of the rebuilding and repair.
15. Salary for 2.8 million enlistees
The base pay for an E-1 (a private or airman or seaman who quite possibly walked out high school and into the recruiting office) is $19,198 per year. The various branches pay the same rate. We used the base pay for this, but that number doesn’t include things like a housing allowance, food allowance and medical care, which can make the total compensation package come closer to $40,000 per year.
16. 62 percent of Bill Gates’ stuff
Bill Gates tops Forbes list of the world’s richest people with a net worth of $86.9 billion. The increased defense funding Trump is asking for would still leave Gates with a cool $32.9 billion, let’s hope he could manage on that.
17. Four Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers
The first of the nuclear-powered Ford-class aircraft “supercarriers” is supposed to launch this year and has run up a cost of $12.9 billion. However, the Navy expects that future ships in the class — there are two currently planned — will each cost less. The cost, of course, doesn’t include the aircraft it will carry.
18. Mexican border wall, with change
The true cost of Trump’s long-promised wall at the Mexican border is difficult to estimate. It depends on just what materials are used and its length. The secretary of the Homeland Security Department recently said it was unlikely it would be a true wall from “sea to shining sea.” Estimates for the wall have varied widely, from as low as $10 billion to as high as $49 billion. Either way, the $54 billion for defense spending would be more than enough to build the wall. Maybe use those extra few billion for some nice decorations.
19. About half of our missile defense system
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency spent about $100 million on missile defense between 2002-2014, and was planning to spend $7 billion per year more, through this year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. This is a system being designed to protect us from large-scale attacks by Russia or China.
20. Feed 4 million people for 3.5 years
The USDA estimates that feeding a family of four (with one child between the ages of 6 and 8, the other from age 9 to 11) costs, according to the most liberal estimate, an average of $1,272.80 per month. So the $54 billion could feed one family of four for more than 42 million months. Or feed 1 million families of four for 42.4 months, or 3.5 years. Of course, once that older kid hits puberty, he’ll probably start eating like a horse and throw off the numbers.
21. Buy 20 million suits of body armor
The U.S. Army’s Improved Outer Tactical Vest is the current body armor of choice, though a new version of it may be deployed by 2020. The full suit cost the army about $2,600-$2,700 in 2007, depending on size. Currently they retail for $2,700 to about $4,000, again depending on size. At the Army price, we could buy about 20 million.
22. Fund welfare block grants for more than 3 years
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (sometimes known as welfare, though the name changed 20-odd years ago) provided $17.3 billion in block grants to the states in 2016.
23. Provide 1.35 million combat-trained dogs
The military has been training dogs for use in combat since World War I. Their most common use now is as bomb sniffing dogs, but the canines might take on other roles as well. Training a dog can cost up to $40,000, and the animals “retire” from service when they reach 8 or 9 years old.
24. Pour a shot of Pappy Van Winkle for every American, and then some
The 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon is an American classic beloved by bourbon connoisseurs. If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle, they can easily run $2,500 each, almost 10 times the distillery’s suggested cost. For $54 billion we could buy 21.6 million bottles of Pappy Van Winkle. At about 17 pours of 1.5 ounce shots per bottle, we would get a bit more than 367 million drinks. With about 318 million people in the country, every man woman and child in America could have a drink. Even then, there would be some 50 million shots left over, so we can share with the neighbors.
How would you allot $54 billion in the coming year? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
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