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A Case for Contracting in Today’s Environment

Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian writer and philosopher, demonstrates how governments of previous centuries were intensely opposed to the use of military contractors in the following quote from his political treatise The Prince (translated by Wayne A. Rebhorn):

The mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous, and if anyone has a state founded on the arms of mercenaries, he will never be stable or secure, because they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; bold among friends, among enemies cowardly; without fear of God, without faith in men; and your ruin is deferred only as long as the assault is deferred; and in peace you are plundered by them, in war by the enemy.

This argument is still prevalent today among those who are opposed to contractors on the battlefield, although few express their disdain for military contracting with as much fervor as Machiavelli.

Generally, opponents categorize military contractors as self-serving individuals beholden only to the highest bidder and not necessarily to the ideals of their country. While I find it hard to disagree that a military cotractor can bring a difficult and often unclear dynamic to a dangerous battlefield—especially when acting as security forces for foreign investors or international corporations—I do see the merit of using military cotractors in roles that support national interests and military objectives.

Contractors who serve as logistics, administrative, and technical advisers in support of our military’s efforts under the direction of the ground commanders are valuable. In fact, I believe that the continued use of contractors to support operations is a crucial enabler that allows the military to allocate greater combat power to accomplishing the mission, reducing the risk to Soldiers and the cost to the United States.

Increase in Combat Power

Today, the U.S. Armed Forces are smaller than they were 20 years ago. They are fighting two major conflicts in two different countries, and the service most affected is the Army. Currently, some 1,090,000 Soldiers are on active duty, including 550,000 who are activated from the Reserve component. Most of these Soldiers are either deployed or preparing to deploy in support of
missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. This poses an incredible predicament: the Army lacks the Soldiers to conduct all of its required operations. The solution of outsourcing logistics, administrative, and technical support has helped to remedy this troop-to-task dilemma.

From my own experience, contractors have provided the Army with the ability to focus and commit combat power toward offensive and stability operations. In Afghanistan, contract workers provided a fuel truck regularly, saving Soldiers 9- to 11-hour trips to Bagram Air Base from the base camp in Paktika province. As a company commander, the fact that I did not need to commit men and resources to complete logistics and administrative tasks enabled a greater focus on the combat mission and the projection of more combat power into the area of operations without interruption. This increased combat power improved the safety, stability, and security of the environment.

Reducing Risk

The use of contractors reduces the exposure of Soldiers to unnecessary risk. Our enemies are thoroughly familiar with what types of vehicles we drive, what weapons capabilities we have, and how often we conduct routine logistics and administrative missions. For these reasons, contractors are important. Often, local national contractors are able to pass through potentially dangerous areas unnoticed to deliver needed fuel and supplies to U.S. bases.

Indeed, some missions require U.S. Soldiers to ensure that contractors are able to move supplies safely and unhindered. (This is certainly the case in Iraq, where contractors conduct logistics resupply convoys from Kuwait north to Bagdad with U.S. security elements.) However, in most cases, the contractors will knowingly accept risk for the right price. The decision contractors make to accept risk provides coalition combat forces with the ability to aggressively and diligently project more forces against the enemy and reduces the risks posed to convoy operations.

Reducing Cost

The cost of outsourcing logistics and administrative operations reduces the overall cost to taxpayers. On the surface, contracts appear to entail large costs. In fact, many taxpayers take issue with the excessive choices provided to Soldiers in a dining facility, calling the variety “an unnecessary cost.” Others believe technicians who fix air conditioners or drive supplies between bases are excessively overpaid.

However, the U.S. Government pays one cost, and how contracted companies dole out their salaries and cover messing costs is irrelevant to some degree. The military is not responsible for feeding, insuring, and paying disability or pensions for contractors, as it would be if Soldiers were performing these missions. Further cost savings are realized in not enlisting, training, equipping, and deploying Soldiers to perform tasks that can be contracted. In the end, it does become more cost effective to employ contractors for specific functions.

The argument that military contracting is unnecessary is unfounded; contracting brings an increased focus of combat power in theater, reduces the risk to Soldiers, and reduces the cost to the Government. Monitoring through additional oversight and periodic reviews ensures that the objectives of contracts are met while alleviating concerns of fraud, waste, and abuse. Arguably, there are merits and demerits to using contractors, but there is value in outsourcing.

Major John P. Kilbride was the operations officer for the 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during its deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He holds a B.S. degree in systems engineering from the United States Military Academy and an M.B.A. degree from Webster University. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff College.

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