Golf courses, body armor and missile tubes buried in Pentagon's COVID-19 budget: report
Mark Esper speaks to reporters at the Pentagon (MSNBC/screen grab)

The Pentagon plans to spend billions on vaccine development, medical supplies and other efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic -- but some of that spending has been questioned as inappropriate.

Critics say the Department of Defense has spent too slowly after President Donald Trump invoked wartime production powers to address the pandemic, and some have questioned whether money was spent on relevant materials, reported the Washington Post.

Only 15 percent of the $10.5 billion funding the department received under the Cares Act has been placed under contract, the newspaper reported, although the Pentagon's spending report was delivered a month ahead of its congressional deadline.

“The fact that this spending is happening now, five months after this crisis started, suggests the Defense Department is woefully unprepared for real biological warfare,” said Bill Greenwalt, who served as acquisitions chief in the George W. Bush administration.

The Pentagon plans to spend hundreds of millions on projects that appear unrelated to COVID-19, including submarine missile tubes, space launch facilities, body armor and golf course staffing.

But the department also intends to play a leading role in developing a vaccine and treatments for the virus, and expects to buy 7.5 million doses of a vaccine, when one is developed, for military service members and their families.

The Pentagon is funding development of three possible vaccines in its own medical labs, and the spending plan includes $4.4 billion in coronavirus care and basic equipment for military hospitals.

The plan also shows $22 million for a project to create wearable monitoring devices to measure disease symptoms and track contagious individuals, and the Pentagon plans to deploy the artificial intelligence unit Project Maven, which rapidly analyzes drone footage, to create an algorithm-based surveillance system to track the pandemic's spread around the world.

A substantial portion of the funding -- at least $668 million -- will go to correct pre-existing problems in the military supply chain, and watchdogs see that spending as a giant payout to military defense contractors that has little value in fighting the pandemic.

“With millions of people out of work and small business owners across the country worried they will not be able to weather this storm, we should be focusing our efforts at helping them rather than giving handouts to defense contractors,” said Dan Grazier, of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.