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Contractors on the Battlefield: What Have We Signed Up For?

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The role of contractors in warfare has changed dramatically. As the Services have drawn down, more and more of the duties formerly accomplished by military members are being performed by contractors. The military competency has been eliminated or drastically reduced. These duties run the gamut from the traditional base support functions to maintaining and operating fielded weapons systems on or near the battlefield. Yet instead of addressing the new challenges this change brings to Commanders who have come to rely on contractors as part of their warfighting team, DOD has ignored or downplayed them and thus, has blurred the distinction between soldier and contractor. The reality is, there are significant differences that both parties must understand and accommodate or risk the prospect of failure on the battlefield. In June 1991, the Department of Defense Inspector General reported DOD Components cannot ensure that emergency-essential services performed by contractors would continue during crisis or hostile situations. Such loss of contractor support on sensitive military equipment and systems would have a degrading effect on the Armed Forces capability in a protracted war effort. That was before over a million people fell from DOD rolls, yet there is little evidence that the Services have done anything to address critical issues. Issues such as the commanders authority to control and discipline, the contractors combatant status, force protection for contractor personnel, and the fact that contractors cannot be compelled to go into harms way. Today, it is vital that contractors be there for the fight. Wishing and hoping, however, may not make it so.

Subject Categories:

  • Administration and Management
  • Logistics, Military Facilities and Supplies

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