Future Of Contractors On The Battlefield

Military Considers Future Of Contractors On The Battlefield, Myers Says (Defense Daily, $)

Contractors are an increasing presence on today’s battlefields and the military is taking a look at that issue as it works through future requirements, according to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, who leads U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), has been asked to address questions about contractors on the battlefield such as: “Do we have the right balance, can we do more or, given the security situation…is it wise to have so many contractors involved,†JCS Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said at an Institute for Land Warfare breakfast last week. Myers said, “I don’t know the answer to that. I would like to look at our experience in Iraq–I think that will inform us.â€

JFCOM is already examining operational-level lessons learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, which includes the role of contractors not only during major combat but the aftermath as well. The examination would also lead into some of the policy questions that have to be answered, such as should contractors be armed or not. Myers’ introduction to contractors on the battlefield came during the first Gulf War with the Northrop Grumman [NOC] Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar Systems (Joint STARS) aircraft. The decision was made to send the aircraft to Desert Storm, even though it was still in development. “In the belly of the aircraft were contractors, still changing, in some cases, the waveforms of the radar,†he said.

Also, looking into the contractor’s role could shape military transformation, he said. “We are looking as we go forward with requirements for combat support and combat service support.†Earlier, Myers told industry to “think broadly†about transformation, because if the idea, technology or platform they are offering doesn’t fit the way the military will fight, “it’s not going to go very far.â€

There are no easy answers to these questions but I’m glad to see that the Defense Department is seriously thinking about them. Given that the Defense budget is already enormous, I’m not sure we can add on enough more to have all of these capabilities organically. Civilian contractors (of which I’m one) are a fact of life for everyday operations, and add flexible expertise at a fraction of the long term cost of civil servants or uniformed personnel, since it’s far easier to terminate a contract for services no longer required that to get rid of career personnel. But the status of contractors on the battlefield is incredibly problematic, especially as the lines between combat and combat support/service support blur.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.