|Protecting Civilian Logisticians on the
|by Major Richard J. Hornstein
Now more than ever
before in history, the support of U.S. military forces
is inherently tied to the success of contractors on the
The kidnappings, murders, and attacks directed against civilians
supporting the rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue
to demonstrate the importance of force protection for noncombatants.
Now, more than at any other time in our Nation’s history,
the success of our strategic mission in war is closely linked
to the success of our contractors on the battlefield. It is
imperative that support commanders have a clear understanding
of the tactical planning and effort required to protect the
contractors and contracted logistics convoys that enter the
Three years before the initiation of hostilities in Iraq, the
grim spectacle of the videotaped murder of Wall Street
Journal reporter Daniel Pearl became the horrifying prologue to the
killing of four American contractors in Fallujah on 3 March
2004. These crimes were an even darker prelude to other high-profile
abductions and videotaped murders of contractors.
mans an M2 .50-caliber machinegun during a resupply
mission at Camp Hit, Iraq.
Logistics Support in Theater
Logistics is the lifeblood of any successful Army. General
Omar Bradley is quoted as saying, “Amateurs talk about strategy; professionals talk about logistics.” History
has supported that premise. It is clear that, without the right mix of supplies
routinely provided to the force to ensure its effectiveness, the mission will
fail. The majority of logistics support in theater is provided by Kellogg Brown & Root
(KBR) under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) III contract.
This competitively awarded contract is an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity
cost-plus-award-fee contract. LOGCAP uses multiple task orders throughout the
theater to provide flexible, responsive support to the ground combatant commanders
at multiple operating bases and camps. KBR performed worldwide contingency
in the Balkans and established a dependable reputation for delivering a full
range of support.
In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait, KBR has taken over most of the delivery and
sustainment of all classes of supply, and it is fully responsible for managing
and distributing many of them throughout the theater. The unimpeded flow of
these supplies is critical to successful operations and is directly tied to
combat capability. Most of these supplies are moved in, out, and within the
theater by convoys of commercial trucks operated by civilian contractors. Combatant
and the contractors themselves must provide adequate resources and techniques
to protect these essential convoys.
Protecting the Civilian Force
The responsibility for protecting contractors falls directly
on the combatant commander. Field Manual 3–100.21, Contractors
on the Battlefield, states—
. . . the Army’s policy
has become that when contractors are deployed in support of
Army operations/weapon systems, they will be provided force
commensurate with that provided to DAC [Department of the Army civilian]
personnel. Commanders must understand that contractors are
subject to the same threat as
Soldiers and must plan accordingly. Contractors, when placed in a position
of risk, must be protected, or the support they provide may
be degraded. . . .
Protecting contractors and their employees on the battlefield is the commander’s
responsibility. When contractors perform in potentially hostile or hazardous
areas, the supported military forces must assure the protection of their
operations and employees. The responsibility for assuring that contractors
force protection starts with the combatant commander, extends downward, and
includes the contractor.
The contractor’s civilian leaders also
are responsible for force protection and must do everything
they reasonably can to safeguard their personnel and
Government-furnished equipment from battlefield threats.
Although security still remains fragile in Iraq and Afghanistan,
the number of contractors on the battlefield has grown since
the initiation of hostilities. During Operation Desert Storm,
9,200 contractors deployed to support military operations—a
ratio of approximately 1 contractor to 50 Soldiers. During
the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, the ratio increased to
1 to 10. This statistic was derived from figures compiled
as the mission matured and troop strengths were drawn down
toward the end of the 1990s. The current contractor-to-Soldier
ratio in the Iraqi theater is hard to determine because the
number of contractors in theater at any specific time is
not known. However, the estimates are comparable to the Bosnia
The increased number of contractors in theater has brought
a concurrent increase in the number of contractor casualties.
Although exact casualty figures are not known, approximately
275 contractors have been killed in the Iraqi theater since
the beginning of hostilities. This figure alone eclipses
the total number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan
by 30 at the time this article was written. Although contractors
are successfully filling many logistics roles traditionally
performed by military personnel, they lack the ability to
protect themselves as well as the Soldiers they replaced
could. This fact adds an unforeseen security consideration
to the battlespace that most combatant commanders did not
anticipate when operations began. Commanders have adjusted
rapidly to meet this requirement. However, the resources
needed for this mission and the vast number and size of the
supply routes and contractor convoys have taxed the sometimes
tenuous mobile security forces that are often composed of
To Arm or Not to Arm
Based on international agreements, contractors are considered
to be “civilians accompanying the force.” They
are in a unique category—they are considered neither
combatants nor noncombatants. Though some security firms
arm their employees, most do not. The reason for this is
twofold. First, if contractors on the battlefield are permitted
by the combatant commander to carry weapons for self-protection,
their protected status as civilians could be jeopardized
because they could be perceived as legitimate combatants
by opposing forces
or insurgents. Second, a force of armed logistics contractors
mistakenly could be perceived as mercenaries.
Traditionally, contractors may be armed for self-protection
only if all of the following conditions exist—
The issue of weapons is authorized by the
Contractor policy permits carrying weapons.
Individual employees and the overarching
theater contractor agree that the contractors should be armed.
Side arms are Government-issued.
Currently, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, these conditions
have not been met for the LOGCAP contractors on the battlefield.
Only a small group of contracted personnel, such as Blackwater
USA, is armed in theater. (Blackwater
USA is a professional law enforcement, security, peacekeeping,
and stability operations firm.) Most of the contractors who
provide life support to our forces on the battlefield and
support reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq remain
Securing Main Supply Routes
Perhaps the greatest convoy protection challenge facing the
forces in the Iraqi theater is the inability to secure fully
the main supply routes (MSRs). Several MSRs are used for
moving supplies from Kuwait into and throughout Iraq. With
the expanded use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that
are relatively effective against convoys traveling along
vast stretches of unguarded roads, innovative use of combined
arms force-protection measures is mandated.
Army doctrine calls for the use of both passive and active
measures to secure the force. Field Manual 3–07, Stability
Operations and Support Operations, defines antiterrorism
as “defensive measures used to reduce the vulnerability
of individuals and property to terrorist acts, to include
limited response and containment by local military forces.” These
defensive measures can help to reduce the likelihood of attack
or reduce the effectiveness of an attack if one occurs.
Passive Force-Protection Measures
Examples of effective passive force-protection measures used
by civilian drivers and commanders include maintaining adequate
intervals between vehicles when traveling;
traveling during daylight hours; wearing individual protective
gear; using up-armored protection on the local commercial
vehicles if feasible; deterring remote
detonation of IEDs with jamming devices; vigilance; nation
building; and varying the time, route, and manner of travel.
Military drivers are taught that maintaining adequate intervals
during convoy operations will limit the number of vehicles
that will be affected in the event of attacks and ambushes
and thereby reduce the number of casualties and the amount
of cargo and vehicles lost. Civilian contractors and their
convoy commanders must enforce this same discipline with
contracted drivers. Military units designated to accompany
convoys must ensure that the routes used are known by all
vehicle operators and that there is adequate communication
throughout the convoy. Everyone must be briefed on what actions
to take on contact with the enemy. These actions should be
standardized, trained, and briefed routinely as part of the
convoy preparation process.
Contractor convoys do not travel at night because visibility
along unimproved roads in the area of operations is reduced
and the threat of attack is increased. Few, if any, contractors
on the battlefield provide night vision devices for their
drivers, many of whom are local nationals or third-country
nationals. This fact further supports their decision to execute
daytime convoys only.
The chances of surviving attacks are markedly increased by
the use of ballistic helmets and vests. This practice, which
is mandatory for KBR employees, should be required of all
contracted civilian drivers, regardless of nationality.
explosive devices (IEDs) often arehidden in unlikely
places. A look at the underside of this chunk
of concrete reveals an encased
Conversely, most ground shipments in Afghanistan
are transported by local drivers who do not wear protective
gear. The decision to forego the gear is actually a passive
force-protection measure developed as a result
of the tactical situation and threat. Local commercial drivers
operate vehicles called “jingle trucks” (because
of the sound made by the wide array of decorative colored
tassels on the vehicles). They operate independently in most
parts of Afghanistan without the benefit of military escorts
because wearing helmets and vests along the austere supply
routes through mountain passes and remote villages could
attention and make them more vulnerable to attack.
The use of up-armored vehicles can passively deter the enemy
and defend the convoy. However, armoring civilian trucks
has proved challenging. Adding armor and ballistic glass
significantly increases vehicle weight, sometimes
causing instability that results in rollovers and catastrophic
suspension failures when traveling on unimproved roads. However,
any protection that can be added safely to vehicle cabs,
such as sandbags or Kevlar floor mats, should be funded and
Jamming devices that prevent wireless detonation of explosives
also have been used successfully in theater. The use of these
devices should be incorporated into force-protection measures
wherever possible. Of course, their use implies the need
to filter radio frequencies used
for normal communication to prevent interference.
The enemy has demonstrated an ability to react and change
his tactical approach to counter our threat-mitigation actions.
IEDs have proven to be the convoy’s greatest threat
and are responsible for most of the fatalities in theater
among contractors, Soldiers, and Marines. Keen vigilance
is crucial to observe objects that look out of place on or
along the road. Civilian drivers and their military escorts
must be trained, and they should receive refresher briefings
on how to identify IEDs or recognize the threat of a developing
ambush. After-action reports and joint civilian and military
debriefings should be scheduled to share information so that
dangerous mistakes can be avoided.
Alternating convoy routes and avoiding chokepoints are also
passive measures that are taught to military personnel and
should be used by contractors as the situation allows. Although
varying routes and departure times will necessitate more
detailed planning and coordination, military convoy security
forces and contractors must make a conscious effort to do
it. Routine encourages complacency and increases convoy vulnerability.
Nation-building efforts, such as assistance by civil affairs
teams to improve the standard of living in areas traveled
by convoys, can significantly reduce attacks from criminals
and reduce insurgent operations. However, the number of civil
affairs missions has increased significantly, and limited
resources restrict the assistance they can provide. Nevertheless,
continued efforts to improve utilities and services throughout
Afghanistan and Iraq will have positive effects and ultimately
reduce criminal and enemy threats to contracted convoys.
Active Force-Protection Measures
Regardless of how well passive defensive measures are implemented, operational
commanders must be prepared to protect and respond to direct attacks on contractor
convoys. In the event of a direct assault by terrorists, insurgents, or common
criminals who want to steal supplies, a convoy must have adequate firepower
and an adequate number of trained Soldiers or Marines dispersed throughout
the convoy to react to and defeat any threat. No set number of troops and
vehicles or specific approach will ensure success, but most contractors require
a certain amount of protection before their employees are allowed to travel
into a hostile area. This requirement must be considered when assigning limited
resources and personnel to secure convoys and MSRs.
Some factors that help the commander to decide how convoy security should
be accomplished are the size of the convoy, the troops available, the route
and distance of the convoy, and the risk of attack. A repetitive approach
would be an invitation to insurgents, terrorists, or other criminals who
reconnoiter convoys to identify patterns that can be exploited easily. For
example, a convoy that routinely inserted one up-armored high-mobility, multipurpose
wheeled vehicle after every 20 commercial vehicles would be an invitation
to a synchronized attack.
Major-General Carl von Clausewitz, a renowned Prussian military theorist,
advocated an active economy of force effort wherein the right assembly of
men and equipment in time and space were most important for success. He knew
that the critical use of pursuit and maneuver was important when applying
force against the enemy. Thus, it is imperative to have dispersed throughout
a convoy a trained force that is capable of flexible and rapid movement and
can bring a great deal of force to bear on an enemy at a certain time and
Although it is prudent to understand the importance of the deliberate planning
methodology used in troop-leading procedures and the military
decision-making process, some general, common-sense factors should be considered
also to help ensure the security of a contractor convoy. Tactical commanders
who have practical, firsthand experience will determine the tactics to use
when forced to engage in direct small-arms fire with enemy combatants who
may attack the convoy. However, several planning factors are important, and
the commander must be aware of these.
Establish a force-protection ratio in the convoys. Unlike a
tactical transportation unit that would self-protect during convoys and have
weapons on every vehicle,
a contractor convoy relies solely on the military to provide for its security.
A workable ratio of up-armored security vehicles to contractor trucks must
be established. Although the amount of force protection used is arguably
the decision of the combatant commander, a contractor typically requires
a standard ratio of security vehicles and personnel for safe ground operations.
Planners must be aware of this requirement. Contractors may refuse to execute
their mission if this ratio is too low or the right
types of up-armored vehicles and weapons are not used. This has caused many
commanders to feel that their operations have become vulnerable to the demands
of corporate executives. Because their military mission is so closely linked
to and dependent on contractors, however, commanders cannot afford an impasse.
Some commanders may view convoy security as a drain on security personnel
who are needed for other missions in theater. However, contractor force requirements
thus far in the current hostilities have been reasonable, and many commanders
have opted for increased protection based on the threat to and criticality
of the convoyed supplies.
Maintain good communications. Maintaining good
communications is essential when providing security during a direct-fire
engagement in a civilian convoy of 20 to 100 vehicles that may be strung
out for miles. Contractors may use commercial radios to communicate with
their drivers throughout the convoy. Nevertheless, security commanders also
must be able to communicate with the convoy drivers and should ask the contractor
to provide the means to maintain communications with them. For operational
security, the use of code words or radio silence should be exercised along
the route when using unsecured voice communications and during any direct
engagement. Communications links with higher headquarters and fire support
assets should be established, tested, and maintained for the duration of
the convoy. If any IED detonation-jamming devices are used in the convoy,
it is important to identify their communications frequencies to avoid voice
Train and enforce battle drills for actions on enemy contact. The value of
battle drills can never be underestimated. Clausewitz stated, “Everything
is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.” He called
this phenomenon the “friction of war,” wherein unforeseen circumstances
frequently arise and routine tasks or expectations often become extremely
difficult. Battle drills can help limit this friction. Soldiers and civilians
alike should be drilled on actions to take on enemy contact. These actions
should be explained thoroughly in preconvoy briefs and during force-protection
training and awareness indoctrination. Soldiers charged with security must
know how to react and maneuver rapidly to provide supporting fire to other
elements engaged in fire during convoy operations. Seconds often mean the
difference between life and death in combat operations.
Reduce security handoffs during the convoy. A convoy that stops or slows
down is much more vulnerable to attack. Vehicles must enter and exit the
secured areas quickly at handoff locations to avoid compromising security.
Any security handover between different units must be planned, coordinated,
and rehearsed, at least on a sand table. This rehearsal should be coordinated
and precise to minimize delays and vulnerability to direct attack. Ideally,
security handoffs should take place at a safe location. If possible, the
same security forces should work with the same contracted convoy commanders
along the same routes to minimize handoffs. This approach allows the security
forces to become familiar with the route and sensitized to changes along
the route. This awareness increases the likelihood for recognition of IEDs
and possible ambushes.
Train all security personnel on how to call for fire, and establish fixed
reference points along the route. Fire support is a critical
component of contractor convoy security. All military personnel on the convoy
security force should
know how to call for and adjust fire as required. This is a perishable skill,
so refresher training should be conducted frequently
to maintain proficiency.
When available, attack helicopters provide the best fire support. They can
provide direct fire and increased visibility and surveillance for the convoy
and help to identify changes or threats along the route. Helicopters also
can disrupt enemy activities before they become a direct threat to the convoy.
Although the routine use of helicopters is not always feasible, security
commanders should include these resources in their plans, and combatant commanders
allocate these attack assets when available for use in convoy security. Fire
support plans for close air-support and artillery also are needed. Precision
munitions make the use of close air support more feasible in populated areas
and add increased lethality to security forces if they encounter an enemy
Fixed reference points should be developed and shared with all security elements.
These reference points assist security forces in calling for fire support
when the friction of a direct engagement may make the simplest task, such
as reading a map, extremely difficult.
Know what to look for, and think asymmetric. The ability of security forces,
commanders, and contractors to think “out of the box” is important.
Insurgents and terrorists have been ingenious in using natural surroundings
and other methods of camouflage to hide snipers, ambush positions, IEDs,
and other threats to a convoy. Traditional ways to damage and disrupt convoys
are rarely used. Security and contractors alike should maintain a high level
of vigilance and look for anything that may appear odd or out of place. IEDs
have been discovered hidden in animal corpses, potholes, guardrails, and
many other unlikely places. The appearance of wires, evidence that digging
has occurred, or dead animals or garbage may all be telltale signs of an
IED emplacement. The approach of suspicious vehicles should be deterred through
visual and audio signals. If those actions fail, the vehicles should be engaged
with small-arms fire at the farthest distance practicable to prohibit the
possibility of a suicide attack and the subsequent collateral damage that
such an attack could cause.
Another nontraditional security method that may prove effective is having
military troops ride shotgun with contractors in civilian trucks throughout
the convoy. This method should be used sparingly and with the consent of
the contractors, because it may have the unwanted effect of drawing increased
enemy fire toward the contractors. Convoy security personnel must watch for
vehicles or individuals who detour rapidly off the MSR as the convoy approaches.
These may be observers whose job is to identify the approach of a convoy.
This dilemma has no easy solution, but security personnel should remain flexible,
share all lessons learned, and try new approaches that may make sense based
on the situation.
Know the operational contingencies. Contingency plans, rally
points, and recovery plans for damaged vehicles are all critical. A policy
or destruction of damaged or broken-down vehicles must be known and enforced.
Millions of dollars worth of commercial vehicles have been lost on MSRs because
of the inability to execute recovery plans rapidly and successfully. Security
forces accompanying the convoys must determine if a broken-down vehicle has
been carrying some critical repair components or sensitive items and quickly
a plan to recover the equipment or destroy it in place based on approved
guidance and the security requirements of the convoy.
Other contingencies that must be planned include actions to take on enemy
contact, if the route is blocked, or if elements of the convoy become separated
from each other. A standard list of contingencies should be drafted and briefed
as part of the preconvoy briefing. Participants in this briefing should be
military security personnel, all contracted drivers, and the contractor’s
civilian convoy commander. Contingencies are not limited to those with standard
boilerplate solutions; the list should be flexible and updated frequently
based on the latest intelligence.
Afghani driver stands beside his bullet-riddled “jingle
The ideas presented in this article are intended to serve only as a template
for forming an active plan of force protection for contractor convoys. The
fact that this discussion does not focus on intelligence does not diminish
its importance. Intelligence updates should be incorporated into all security
plans and convoy briefings. Mobility, countermobility, and survivability
also play important roles in the security of the MSR.
The use of contractor logisticians has increased significantly in the last
decade. Theater commanders have adapted rapidly and have provided sustained
force protection to the many contractor convoys operating in the theaters.
However, because of the limitations of unarmed contracted civilians, the
adaptive techniques of terrorists and insurgents, and a limited number of
trained military police and other combat and support units available for
convoy security missions, contractor convoy force protection remains a challenge
in theater. Now more than ever before in our history, the support of our
military forces is inherently tied to the success of these contractors, so
their efforts must not be disrupted by insurgents or terrorists. It is imperative
that we secure our contractor supply efforts
since the accomplishment of our overall mission is intrinsically tied to
their success on the battlefield.
Major Richard J. Hornstein is the Team Leader for the Army Surface-Launched
Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile
Defense Elevated Netted Sensor Systems at the Defense Contract Management
Agency in Andover, Massachusetts. He has deployed twice in the last 3 years
in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He has a bachelor's
degree from the University of Rhode Island and a master's degree in acquisition
and contract management from the Florida Institute of Technology. he is a
graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers
Advanced Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College.