Civilian contractors have a larger presence on today’s battlefields than ever before. Over a decade ago, as the U.S. military began downsizing, it began transferring many of its support functions to private sector contractors. From the provision of food, shelter and water to fuel and security, functions once performed by uniformed personnel have to a large degree been outsourced. As part of the Department of Defense transformation, contractors also became a part of complex weapons systems support on the battlefield. In essence, contractors are now a de facto third force — a support force — integral to the conduct of modern warfare. Managing this support force well is the new challenge.
Overall, contractors on the battlefield have more than met their mission to support the Nation and its military by supplying logistics, combat and combat services support — often under harrowing and lethal conditions. Indeed, in many instances, their achievements have been nothing short of miraculous. Contractors have been largely responsible for the construction and maintenance of the complex infrastructure that supports U.S. expeditionary forces. In this process, more than 600 civilian contract workers have been killed in Iraq alone.
However, the experiences in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan have also revealed a number of deficiencies in the way this third force has been managed, directed and employed. Deficits range from the policies governing contractors in theater and the relationship between contractors and military personnel; management and labor practices, cost controls, accountability and oversight; observance of international conventions; to communication, security and force protection. The relationship between the Defense Department and the private sector needs revision in order to create the conditions that will enable this essential support force to perform more efficiently and safely and that will provide requisite transparency, cost effectiveness and accountability.
There are six key reforms that must be implemented. First, establish mutual, collaborative relationships between the Defense Department and contractors. This relationship must be based on a clear definition of both sides’ responsibilities and improved government oversight. Second, recognize the reality of the third force in contingency planning and preparation processes, e.g. strategic planning sessions, war games, mission training plans and mission readiness exercises. Third, provide Combatant Commanders with contracts that are flexible to meet the changing logistics requirements of the theater. Fourth, provide proper training to DoD oversight personnel; deploy and keep experienced personnel in the field. Fifth, establish a doctrine for contractors regarding force protection, security, labor and human rights practices, and command and control in theater; train all uniformed military and contractors in this doctrine. Sixth, develop and implement a consistent communications doctrine between contractors and Combatant Commanders.
Finally, changes that are made to improve conditions for success for contractors as a permanent part of deployments must be forward looking. It is time to break with the tradition of “fighting the last war” in preparing for the next one. No one imagined the scope, scale, operating tempo and duration of the Iraq war — preparing to manage the support force in future contingencies must leave sufficient degrees of freedom for the unimaginable circumstances of modern, irregular warfare.
The draft of this report was written by Ms. Carrie Hunter and Dr. Daniel Goure. Members of the Logistics Working Group had an opportunity to review and modify the final report.
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