Mercenaries," "merchants of death," "coalition of the billing," "a national disgrace" all have been used to describe the use of contractors in war. The extensive use of contractors on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan has engendered strong emotion and calls for change. An ever-expanding literature and much larger volume of opinion pieces have led the discussion, most expressing shock and disappointment that such a situation has occurred. Unfortunately, little of this literature is useful to planners trying to design future forces in a world characterized by extensive commitments and limited manpower. The purpose of this article is to examine what battlefield contractors actually do, consider how we got to the situation we are in today, and provide force planners with some useful insight regarding the future.
Some general conclusions related to this assessment:
* Most jobs performed by contractors on the battlefield are unobjectional and should not be done by military personnel.
* With regard to the provision for bodyguards, the function where the most problems have occurred, viable options for change do exist.
* Following the Cold War, the Services, especially the active Army, were structured with an emphasis on combat units at the expense of support units. As a result there is a large and enduring shortage of support units. The use of contractors on the battlefield is no longer an optional or marginal activity.
The bottom-line for planners is that contractors are an integral and permanent part of US force structure. As a permanent part of US military force structure, contractors should be treated as such. Just as there are plans, preparations, and procedures for using reserve forces, the same needs to be done in the case of contractors.
Contractors and Their Role
How many contractors are there on today's battlefields and what are their functions? For the first years of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan no one really knew how many contractors were present in theater. Estimates were proposed, but, because agencies did their own hiring and no central database existed, there was a great deal of uncertainty. When the number of contractors became an operational and political issue, the Congress directed that an accurate accounting be made. As a result there is now, as of the second quarter of fiscal year 2008, a fairly reliable count, 265,000 personnel. Unfortunately, this number has created as much confusion as clarity. Because so much media attention has focused on security contractors, many assume that the majority of these 265,000 contractors are gun-toting Americans. In fact, few are armed, and 55 percent are Iraqis. Figure 1 depicts how the numbers break out and a brief description of the functional areas.
Almost half of all contractors are in support of some sort of reconstruction. These contractors assist in the rebuilding of infrastructure, from oil fields to roads and schools. Most of the personnel are local nationals. No sensible person would propose replacing these contractors with US military personnel. True, there have been instances where local contractors are sometimes tainted by corruption and inefficiency, and it would appear to be administratively easier just to substitute military engineers. But these contractors also hire local labor, and are responsible for putting large numbers of local men to work, a fact aiding the broader counterinsurgency effort. Work removes the bored and unemployed from the streets. Men who might otherwise join the insurgency for ideological or economic reasons now have a stake in maintaining stability. A job also has significance in traditional societies such as Iraq and Afghanistan, a fact that is sometimes difficult for westerners to appreciate. A job means that a man can get married and leave his family's home. Traditionally in these societies, unmarried children do not move out and get apartments on their own. …