Managing, Deploying, Sustaining, and Protecting Contractors on the Battlefield

by Joe A. Fortner

In his second article on contractor support, the author continues his discussion of policy and doctrine for using contractors to support Army operations.

In the July-August issue of Army Logistician, I discussed the Army's successes to date in institutionalizing the use of contractors on the battlefield. Over the past year and a half, the Army Training and Doctrine Command/Army Combined Arms Support Command's Contractors on the Battlefield (CoB) Integrated Concept Team (ICT) has developed and published synchronized capstone doctrine and policy for using contracted support in Army operations. Those publications are—

The two FM's define three types of contractors.

Theater support contractors support deployed operational forces under prearranged contracts or contracts awarded from the mission area by contracting officers serving under the direct contracting authority of the theater principal assistant responsible for contracting (PARC). They provide goods, services, and minor construction, usually through local vendors, to meet the immediate needs of operational commanders.

External support contractors provide support to deployed operational forces that is separate and distinct from either theater support or support provided by system contractors. To support the mission, they may perform according to pre-arranged contracts or contracts awarded during the contingency itself. Contracting officers who award and administer external support derive their contracting authority from PARC's outside the theater.

System contractors support deployed operational forces under pre-arranged contracts awarded by program executive officers, program managers, and the Army Materiel Command to provide specific support to materiel systems throughout their life cycle, during both peacetime and contingency operations. These systems include, but are not limited to, vehicles, weapon systems, aircraft, command and control infrastructure, and communications equipment.

When contractors support Army operations, they must be managed, deployed, protected, and sustained. The CoB ICT has defined and institutionalized significant elements of each of these areas.

Managing Contractors

The Army does not command and control contractors in the sense that it commands and controls military units and soldiers. Instead, contractors are managed, and the management mechanism is the contract itself. A contractor is obligated to do only what is specifically required by the contract. A commander who wants to change the performance requirements of a contractor's employees must work through the contracting officer to change the terms and conditions of the contract. Managing contractors involves planning, visibility, and control, which is not unlike commanding and controlling soldiers.

Planning. As with any other aspect of military operations, planning is critical. During the planning process, commanders and staffs must remain aware of several factors—

To support the planning aspects of contractor use, FM 100-21 defines the requirement for contractor annexes to the commander's support plan. These annexes individually address managing, deploying, protecting, and sustaining contractors.

Visibility. Commanders must maintain situational awareness of contractor personnel, equipment, and operations. This requirement is tempered somewhat by circumstances. For example, the commander always will require fairly detailed accountability of the system contractors who keep his high-tech weapon systems operational. He may not require such scrupulous awareness of the theater support contractor's laborers supporting his base operations. In any case, mechanisms already exist to help the commander achieve that situational awareness. FM 100-21 recommends using existing Army management information systems to maintain visibility of contractor personnel and operations just as if they were military.

Control. Normally, supervisory authority for contractor personnel resides with the contractor. This does not, however, deprive the commander of substantial control. He can exercise indirect control of contractor personnel through contract terms and conditions, assimilation of command directives into employer-employee agreements, and attachment of contractor personnel (with special reporting procedures) to specific military units. The commander can direct a subordinate unit to provide administrative accountability of contractor personnel. Moreover, contractor personnel must adhere to all guidelines and obey all general instructions issued by the commander. Violations may result in limited access to facilities or revocation of any special status the employee enjoys. In extreme cases, the commander can direct removal of an employee from the area of operations.

The control process is complicated by the differing coordination requirements of the various contractors. Theater support contracts exist through the authority of the theater PARC, who is directly subordinate to the theater commander. Coordinating the contractors' activities, controlling their operations, and modifying their contracts are relatively straightforward. But external support contractors and system contractors operate under the authority of other PARC's. Coordinating and controlling their activities and executing changes to their contracts are significantly more complicated. Currently, the Army does not have a good mechanism to resolve this issue.

Civilian contractors working for Brown & Root Services Corporation make repairs on a bomb shelter located near Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. Civilian contractors working for Brown & Root Services Corporation make repairs on a bomb shelter located near Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.

One specific issue concerning control of contractor personnel that has generated significant debate is the issue of contractor uniforms. In the past, commanders frequently have directed that contractor personnel in their areas of operations wear the same uniforms that their soldiers wear (typically battledress uniforms). While there are no laws specifically prohibiting this practice, neither are there any laws specifically requiring it. Therefore, the CoB ICT treated this issue as a policy matter rather than a legal matter. The resulting policy, published in AR 715-9, states that contractors are not authorized to wear military uniforms. The only exceptions are special-purpose uniform items such as chemical protective gear, extreme climate gear, and mission-specific safety equipment. It is entirely appropriate for contractor personnel to present a uniform appearance, but not in U.S. military uniforms.

Deploying Contractors

Supporting Army operations with contractors requires deploying contractor personnel and equipment into the area of operations. Deploying contractors requires dealing with habitual relationships; TPFDL's; preparation for overseas replacement (POR) or movement (POM); and reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSO&I).

Habitual relationships. Habitual relationships exist at two levels: between the corporation and the Army at management levels, and between the contractor employee and the unit at individual level. Both relationships are important, particularly with system contractors. During both peacetime and war, system contractor employees typically work directly in the unit they support. They effectively become part of the unit. This fosters personal relationships that can be very meaningful in high-stress, dangerous situations on the battlefield. Soldiers usually are more willing to risk themselves to protect their "buddies," even when the buddies are contractors. To the extent permitted by the type of contractor and the nature of the contract, habitual relationships should be fostered.

TPFDL. During a deployment, the TPFDL establishes the order of priority for moving individuals and units. It establishes contractor importance in the support effort. It is helpful to have established habitual relationships between system contractor personnel and units, because the employees are part of the deploying units and are included on the TPFDL with them. External support contractors may or may not have habitual relationships. Nevertheless, if the support they provide is critical, they will have to deploy as if they were military units. If the contractors cannot self-deploy, the contractor personnel will have to be placed on the TPFDL. This can be difficult; many commanders are less than enthusiastic about putting civilian personnel and equipment into the deployment flow ahead of soldiers and warfighting equipment. This is a major planning issue that must be addressed for each operation. While the basic doctrinal requirements surrounding this issue have been identified, the tactics, techniques, and procedures for accomplishing it routinely still must be developed.

POR/POM. POR/POM is a relatively straightforward process for soldiers and units. The requirements generally are determined by regulations, and they apply equally to all. With contractors, the situation is not so straightforward. For example, soldiers can be required to undergo immunization; contractor personnel cannot, unless the requirement is specified in the contract. Certain types of required training, such as weapons qualification and use of deadly force, may not apply to contractors. However, many POR/POM items are applicable to contractor personnel. These include updated medical and dental records, passports, next-of-kin information, theater-specific training requirements, and identification tags or cards.

For system contractor personnel, POR/POM qualification may be accomplished with the unit. However, external support contractors may not have a habitual relationship with a unit, so their POR/POM qualification must be handled some other way, such as processing the employees in a group as if they were a military unit or sending them to processing centers one at a time. Some contractors have, in the past, obtained the necessary forms and instructions from the Army and prepared themselves for overseas movement.

Whatever the case, there are costs and administrative procedures associated with the POR/POM process that must be planned into the deployment process. FM 100_21 encourages incorporation of standardized procedures into contract language to cover this requirement.

RSO&I. All contractor personnel entering an area of operations to support Army operations must be received, staged, moved onward, and integrated. Theater support contractors are already there, but they also must be integrated into ongoing Army operations. As with POR/POM qualification, there are several mechanisms to "RSO&I" contractor personnel. The process is affected by distribution system capacity, in-theater training requirements, costs, the best interests of the Government, and the contractor's ability to meet RSO&I requirements. FM 100-21 encourages standardized language in contracts, but the tactics, techniques, and procedures still must be developed.

Sustaining Contractors

Sustaining contractors involves all aspects of Government-furnished life support, facilities, distribution, and Government-furnished equipment.

Life support. Life support includes items such as mail service, field services, medical support, morale support, religious support, legal services, and mortuary affairs support. Contractors need such support just as soldiers do. Generally, it is more appropriate to provide such support from Government or military sources than to have the contractors bring their own capability into the area of operations. Sometimes, however, this is not feasible and contractors have to support themselves. Generally, theater support contractors obtain life support from local sources. System contractors are dispersed throughout the area of operations in habitual relationships with the units they support, so they normally obtain life support along with the soldiers in the unit. This support should be specified in the terms and conditions of their contract. External support contractors obtain life support from the Army or support themselves, depending on the terms of the contract. The decision normally will be based on the number of contractor personnel, the contractors' ability to support themselves, and the best interests of the Army.

Facilities. Contractors must have operating and living facilities. One of the frequent problems associated with contractor living facilities is that the contractors compete with the Government for limited available resources, thereby driving up the costs. Contracts must be written carefully to ensure that this does not happen. In some cases, it may be necessary to write terms and conditions into the contract to house contractor personnel with supported military units. In other cases, the Government may contract with host nation or local national providers for facilities and permit contractor personnel to use them at no cost.

Distribution. When contractors support an Army operation, they impact the distribution system just as military units do. They must be able to ship and receive supplies, move to and from their living and work areas, and maintain their equipment. Contracts should be written to encourage maximum contractor use of commercial distribution capabilities consistent with the military operation the contractor is supporting. This minimizes the contractor's impact on the distribution network.

Government-furnished equipment. Contractor use of Government-furnished equipment minimizes the need for large quantities of commercial equipment in the area of operations. For example, providing the contractors with high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicles means that they do not have to deploy their own pickup trucks into the area of operations. Furthermore, contractor use of Government-furnished communications and automatic data processing equipment helps maintain necessary Government-contractor interfaces. This facilitates both operational and administrative aspects of contractor support operations. But there are costs associated with this. If the Government provides equipment for contractor use, the Government very likely will assume the maintenance burden associated with the equipment. The CoB ICT recommends that the Government provide equipment to contractors at no charge whenever possible. If contractors are required to pay for equipment, that cost, along with contractor overhead and profit margins, is billed to the Government. When Government equipment is furnished to contractors, contracting officers should ensure that the Government receives appropriate considerations and contract cost reductions.

Protecting Contractors

Contractors are not soldiers, and they cannot be specifically and deliberately exposed to the same risks as soldiers. They must be protected. This involves issues such as legal status, personal firearms, security, battlefield location, and nuclear-biological-chemical (NBC) protection.

Legal status. Under the laws of land warfare, contractors are neither combatants nor noncombatants. They occupy a special niche called "civilians authorized to accompany the force." As such, they are entitled to some, but not all, of the protections afforded combatants and some, but not all, of the protections afforded noncombatants. Inherent in this status are some interesting and complex aspects of contractor use on the battlefield.

Contractor personnel cannot be targeted deliberately for military action. But the function they are supporting can be. If the function is targeted and contractor personnel are killed or wounded, the law of land warfare regards them as legitimate collateral casualties.

Contractors cannot engage in activities inconsistent with their status. They cannot perform any purely military functions. They cannot participate in attacks on the enemy, nor can they occupy defensive positions to secure the unit perimeter. This point is critical. Combatants (soldiers) are uniquely privileged to conduct war. In doing so, they can knowingly and deliberately kill opposing soldiers. No civilian ever has that right. If a soldier kills during warfare and subsequently is captured, he can be held only as a prisoner of war. A civilian who kills during warfare and subsequently is captured can be held, tried, and punished as a criminal. This is a powerful reason for not permitting contractor personnel to wear military uniforms; it avoids the potential for jeopardizing the soldiers' protected status. As long as contractor personnel do not violate their legal status, they are entitled to prisoner-of-war status if they are captured.

Contractors cannot perform functions in direct support of hostile operations. As contractors provide ever-increasing support to the Army, this constraint becomes more and more important. However, it is extraordinarily difficult to determine the limits of this constraint. A system contractor employee who travels to the area of operations to perform minor technical maintenance on a weapon system that is still operational and capable of performing its intended mission may be violating the constraint against support to hostile operations. On the other hand, the same person performing the same maintenance on the same item in a maintenance facility in a safe area may not be in violation of the constraint.

Personal firearms. Contractor personnel can be armed only for self-defense. FM 100-21 defines three conditions that must be met before contractor personnel can carry firearms. First, the relevant commander in the area of operations must approve the carrying of firearms by contractors. Second, the contractor company policy must permit its employees to carry arms. Third, the individual contractor employee must agree to carry a firearm. If all three conditions prevail, contractor employees can be issued military-specification, personal-defense firearms (M-9 pistols). They must be trained to use the firearms; they must be trained in using deadly force; and they must use military-specification ammunition. Above all, contractor personnel must use a firearm only for the purpose of defending themselves.

Security. As stated above, contractors cannot provide their own security; that is a military function. This means that soldiers must protect contractor personnel. This is a significant issue in determining the overall cost of contractor support, and it reinforces the fact that contractors do not and cannot replace the uniformed force structure.

Battlefield location. As contractors increasingly provide support, the Army will have to deal with them virtually anywhere on the battlefield. While contractors normally will not be assigned at division level or below, they will perform many of their functions, circumstances permitting, within the division's operating area. Therefore, commanders always must remain aware of the mission, enemy, terrain, troops, time, and civilian considerations impacting the ability of contractors to perform their duties. Every contract, and every contemplated use of contracted support, requires a risk assessment based on the commander's mission and critical support requirements, the commander's ability to protect contractors, the costs associated with protecting contractors, and the nature and extent of the threat. These items affect any decision to use contracted support. Battlefield location is one of the most pervasive issues affecting a commander's ability to plan contract support into his operation.

NBC threats. Everyone in an area of operations is equally vulnerable to NBC threats, and everyone requires the same minimum-essential protection. There are costs, both in equipment and in training, associated with preparing contractor personnel to survive NBC attacks.

Contractors always have supported the Army and will continue to do so in the future. As contractor use becomes more institutionalized, more and more functions will be contracted out. Commanders and their planning staffs must be prepared to receive significant support from contractors in all military operations and under virtually all conditions.

The Army is only beginning to institutionalize contractor support. In future operations, commanders and their staffs will face ever-increasing requirements to manage, deploy, sustain, and protect contractor personnel. While the capstone doctrine supporting these efforts is written and published, it is not detailed. Doctrine at the tactics, techniques, and procedures level is yet to come. ALOG

Joe A. Fortner is a logistics management specialist in the Multifunctional Concepts and Futures Branch, Directorate of Combat Developments for Combat Service Support, Army Combined Arms Support Command, Fort Lee, Virginia. He has a bachelor's degree in aviation management and a master's degree in business administration from Auburn University in Alabama. He is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and has more than 27 years of experience in Army transportation and logistics management.