November 10, 2011: The use of contractors for military functions continues to spread. While this practice got a lot of publicity for its use in wartime Iraq and Afghanistan, it's actually been around for decades and has spreading more rapidly since the end of the Cold War, especially for many peacetime operations. Thus contractors are now providing in-flight refueling and air transport services. For example, two years ago the U.S. military hired the Phoenix Air Group to provide twin engine passenger and cargo aircraft to move American troops and equipment around Africa. This was nothing new for the Phoenix Air Group, which had long provided the U.S. Air Force with specially equipped Learjet 35/36 aircraft for electronic warfare training. The Learjets are twin engine aircraft fitted out with electronic warfare equipment and manned by technicians who can replicate a multitude of situations fighter and bomber pilots might encounter in combat. Phoenix also has dozens of twin engine cargo and passenger aircraft for charter, which AFRICOM hired rather than creating its own transport service.
AFRICOM (Africa Command) is similar in organization to other commands (Central, for the Middle East, and South, for Latin America, etc). AFRICOM coordinates all American military operations in Africa. Before AFRICOM was created, those operations were coordinated between two other commands (the one covering Europe and the one covering Latin America). The establishment of AFRICOM means more money for counter-terror operations in Africa, and more long range projects.
But this is an organization that is spread around, and has no base in Africa itself. Office and support facilities for the AFRICOM, which was created four years ago, but its headquarters are currently located outside Stuttgart, Germany, where it will remain until a home can be found in an African country. Meanwhile, many see AFRICOM in the form of the gray painted transports of Phoenix Air Group.
Some fifty years ago, the U.S. military began to more frequently outsource jobs that soldiers had long performed. At first it was things like KP (Kitchen Police, spending a few days a month working in the kitchen) for troops in technical jobs. Soon that practice spread. Then civilians were hired for another onerous job, guard duty. Rather than have the troops spend a few nights a month playing night watchman, civilians did the watching.
One of the more recent outsourcing is that of "adversary pilots." Civilian instructors were already being used for part of military flight training. But with so many pilots getting out, the navy and air force could no longer afford to provide military pilots to play the role of the bad guys in "Top Gun" type exercises. Former military pilots were hired to play the bad guys. All if this is nothing new, armies have long used civilian contractors for all manner of mundane or critical and dangerous, jobs. Centuries ago, the first artillerymen were civilian contractors. Often, combat engineers were civilians. But in the last century or so, the custom was to put everyone into a uniform. But fashion is now swinging the other way.
Despite this long history of contractors, the mass media made much of the fact that half the American force in Iraq was civilian. In fact, this is not the first time this has happened. In the 1990s, half the American peacekeeping force in the Balkans was civilian contractors. In past wars, the percentage varied. Contractors have been in combat zones for thousands of years.
During the 1991 Gulf war, contractors were only about two percent of the force. That was because the U.S. troops came to liberate Kuwait and leave. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf States, had bases they allowed U.S. forces to use for the operation. The American troops basically lived "in the field" as they would in a conventional war. They were backed by hundreds of thousands of local Arab suppliers and workers. In the Vietnam War, where U.S. troops were there for a long time, contractors were 16 percent of the force. In the Korean War, civilians were 28 percent of the force. During World War II it was 12 percent, it was 4 percent in World War I, during the U.S. Civil War it was 17 percent, during the Mexican-American War it was 15 percent and during the Revolutionary War, it was 18 percent. In all these cases, the contractors were the civilians working directly for the military. In addition, there were even more supplier-provided (usually from the local population) civilian personnel.
But today, contractors are brought in because they do jobs that take away from what the troops specialize in (like fighting, or training to fight). With only about 20 percent of soldiers in combat jobs, there's a lot more potential work for contractors.