Paradox or Paradigm? Operational Contractor
Contractor support is integral to the Army's
history. Contractors provided logistical support to the fledgling
Army during the Revolutionary War and, according to General George
Washington, the Army's supply improved with
the advent of contractor support.1 Operational
contractor support (OCS)-a relatively new term-refers to the essential
logistical support contractors have provided to the U.S. Army since
the founding of the Nation. At present, OCS is increasingly the
rule, not the exception.
For almost a decade, the military has been
shifting supply and support personnel into combat jobs and hiring
defense contractors to do the rest. According to Peter W. Singer,
author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military
Industry, OCS represents "a profound change in the way the
military operates."2 Over the past
decade, the number of contract civilians performing work the military
used to do has increased tenfold.
In September 2003, the Army War College recognized
the importance of OCS by including the "Impact of Civilian
Contractors on the Battlefield" as one of its key strategic
issues requiring further detailed analysis.3
An authoritative report from the General Accounting Office (GAO)
concluded that contractors have become a critical force multiplier
in many missions because of troop ceilings, unavailable host-nation
support, and the operational requirement to keep military units
available to respond to a major regional conflict.4
In the 21st-century battlespace, the Army has
and will continue to deploy OCS into hostile fire areas to access
the best industry can offer; apply increasingly scarce resources
to principal combat systems; and keep pace with technology. The
challenge is defining roles and responsibilities and finding the
amalgam of OCS and force structure that produces an acceptable amount
of risk. OCS functions within the context of a comprehensive approach
to logistics that encompasses equipment support, required services,
supply support, readiness, management, training, and force protection.
As such, OCS is an ever more essential element as advances in technology
and weapons systems proliferate.
Existing Army doctrine divides operational
support into three categories: theater, external, and system. Contractors
who provide broad support services for a particular operation provide
theater support and external support. System support contractors
primarily sustain individual systems and equipment. These contractors
perform specific and precisely defined activities and are essential
to operating modern military systems. While theater and external
contractors have their own sets of challenges, the rise in the numbers
and importance of system support contractors has generated discussion
and caused concern.
As weapons and technological systems become
increasingly sophisticated and integral to operations at all levels
of war, the need for technical expertise in the 21st-century battlespace
has never been greater. With the introduction of increasingly sophisticated
weaponry and technologically advanced systems, a revolution in military
affairs assures that system support contractors will become increasingly
crucial components of successful mission accomplishment.
Logistics Support Considerations
Future Army logistical support will depend
on integrating OCS at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.
Strategic logistics encompasses determining support requirements
and coordinating with the industrial base. At the operational level,
logistics is the link between strategic decisions and tactical employment
of OCS down to the actual unit. Consideration of contractors' roles
must start at the beginning of a product or support life cycle.
The Army must address the roles and responsibilities of opera- tional
contractors throughout the life cycle of a weapon or technological
system. As systems become more complex and difficult to operate
and maintain, a contractor presence is necessary during the procurement
process, when the system is fielded, and during live training and
Life-cycle planning must account for OCS at
each step of the process from beginning to end. Essential interrogatives
-What should remain military-owned and operated?
-What should be military-owned but contractor-
-What could be contractor-owned but remain
-What could be contractor-owned and contractor-
To integrate OCS into planning and doctrine,
the military must apply fundamental principles applicable to present
contingencies as well as emerging realities. Fortner provides the
following guiding parameters for planning and implementing OCS at
the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of support.5
-Contracted support must be integrated into
the overall support plan.
-Contractors do not replace force structure:
they augment capabilities and provide additional options for meeting
-Contingency plans must ensure continuation
of service if a contractor fails to perform.
-Depending on the mission, and enemy, terrain,
troops, time, and civil considerations, contractors might deploy
throughout an area of operations and in virtually all conditions.
-Commanders are legally responsible for assessing
risks and protecting contractors in their area of operations.
-Contractor-provided services should be transparent
to the users: any links between Army and contractor automated systems
must not place additional burdens on soldiers.
-Contractor companies must have enough employees
with appropriate skills to meet potential requirements.
-Changing contractor activities to meet shifting
operational requirements might require contract modifications.
-The Army must be able to provide essential
support before contractors arrive in theater or in the event that
contractors either do not deploy or cannot continue to provide contracted
With these guiding principles as a planning
framework, the Center for Army Lessons Learned suggests some important
areas to consider when developing and implementing plans for OCS:
-Identify sufficient transportation to move
OCS that deploys with the unit but does not possess transportation
assets of its own.
-During training, units must replicate contractor
deployments as closely as possible.
-Management of contractors and contracts should
-Training and other deployment actions for
contractors must begin early enough to ensure that all deploying
contractors have time to meet necessary requirements.
-Units and contractor organizations must know
about the specific theater requirements to ensure that deploying
contractors can meet obligations in the area of operations.
Outsourcing and Best Practices
One of the Department of Defense's most widely
adopted civilian best practices is the outsourcing of specialized
logistics functions to contractors. The number of contractors and
range of functions they perform creates a new, dynamic logistics
support structure for the current operational environment. Operation
Desert Storm and operations in Bosnia illustrate this point. During
Operation Desert Storm, 1 in 50 Americans deployed were civilians.
In Bosnia, that ratio increased to 1 contractor for every 10 soldiers.6
OCS allows military personnel to focus on their
core competencies-what they do best-to successfully accomplish the
mission. Experts in organizational behavior have concluded that
"organizational success is determined by excellence in a small
number of core competencies. Because these competencies are so crucial,
the organization must maintain a preeminent operational capability
in them. Non-core competencies are outsourced" [emphasis added].7
Logistics experts have concluded that "when
judiciously exercised, outsourcing heightens performance, produces
a streamlined workforce, and provides the best personnel. As a rule,
specialization contributes to economies of scale and helps simplify
organizational structures. Proper logistic outsourcing permits the
armed services to focus on their respective core competencies. In
short, outsourcing frees personnel to focus on what they do best.
As the 21stcentury battlespace changes, so too must the logistics
Field Manual 110-10-2, Contracting Support
on the Battlefield, sets forth doctrine describing how the armed
services should use and manage civilian contractors in the battlespace.9
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Pamphlet 525-53, Combat
Service Support, specifies that "civilians . . . will provide
an ever-increasing number of capabilities in support of future Army
operations. Use of these support personnel will require their integration
into the battle command environment and into the [combat service
support] CSS framework, as well as mission training for the civilians
Contractor readiness has long been a critical
consideration integral to OCS. No comprehensive system is in place
to measure contractors' effects on unit readiness at the strategic,
operational, or tactical levels of logistical support. At present,
and for the foreseeable future, contractor readiness is becoming
more, not less, critical in today's high-tempo, deployment-intensive
environment. To prevent the "pick-up game" mentality of
contract support, the Army must develop contractor relationships
that promote readiness, training, mutual respect, and confidence,
which is but one measure that can lead to a more predictable relationship
when conflict arises.
"You train like you fight and you fight
like you train" is an old Army adage that also applies to contractors
destined for hostile-fire areas. The need for enhanced training
of OCS personnel and their military counterparts is not new. Contractor
personnel- as well as those in the military who plan for and are
responsible for implementation-need more training. Recently, the
GAO reported that oversight personnel not being trained efficiently
hindered effective oversight of the U.S. military's Balkan logistics.11
Personnel turbulence associated with the frequent
turnover of military supervisors also severely affected the efficiency
and effectiveness of contractor planning, monitoring, and supervision.
The GAO report notes that "personnel assigned to contract oversight
roles . . . have not been trained sufficiently, and the frequent
personnel rotations . . . preclude continuity of oversight efforts."12
The Army has made some progress in training personnel involved in
OCS, but obviously, much more is needed.
While most civilians are considered noncombatants,
their jobs in support of U.S. weapons systems might easily involve
direct contact with hostile fire. This critical problem becomes
especially difficult to solve when the threat is "nuclear,
biological, or chemical. International law such as the Geneva Convention
does recognize the necessity of civilians' support for combat forces
but only in noncombatant roles that keep them out of a direct engagement
with enemy forces. Although the world community generally recognizes
an international legal precedent for civilians to provide support
during war, advances in weapons systems and changes in warfighting
strategies have blurred the lines between support and combat, combatant
and noncombatant, and civilian and soldier."13
Army doctrine is only now beginning to come to terms with the many
legal issues associated with OCS.
A contractor's status in a hostile-fire area
is of concern, but more troubling is the ambiguity of international
law concerning the status of contractors. Contracts seldom specify
that civilian personnel must receive the same protection as military
personnel, which is a significant legal loophole, especially in
the complex management environment in which military commanders
operate. Two questions arise:
-What legal obligation does the Army have to
protect its contractors?
-Should civilian contractors receive the same
kind of physical protection in the battlespace as military CSS forces?
The Army does not command and control contractors
in the way it commands and controls military units and soldiers.
The Army manages contractors. The management mechanism is the contract
itself, which presents leadership and management challenges. A contractor
is obligated to perform only that which is specified in the contract.
Leaders who want to make changes to the contract must coordinate
them through the contracting officer. Observers have noted that
"managing civilian logistics support comprises two issues.
The first is identifying those activities that are appropriate for
privatization or civilian outsourcing. The second focuses on the
administrative decisions and policies required to implement logistics
outsourcing. The latter involves more complicated tasks, ranging
from contract design to performance monitoring and process redesign.
Both issues involve critical decisions that impact the militarycivilian
logistics interface." Managing contractors involves extensive
planning and foresight.
Food for Thought
OCS in the 21st-century battlespace is not
without complexities. A host of questions need to be asked-and answered-if
OCS is to become an integral part of the Army's operational scheme.
With that in mind, I offer the following as food for thought.
Responsibility. In the Army, who is responsible
for OCS oversight of policies, procedures, and execution? Should
a single organization be responsible for all of it? Is this a possible
expanded role for the G4 at the Department of Army headquarters?
Readiness. Given that OCS is an essential component
of logistics in the 21st-century battlespace and, therefore, directly
contributes to readiness, why is there no established procedure
or system to assess contactors' readiness status or determine how
they affect unit readiness by being there or, more important, by
not being there?
Training and doctrine. Can we and should we
do more with training and doctrine? Recognizing the indispensability
of OCS in the 21st-century battlespace, should we develop a comprehensive
approach to OCS training and doctrine and begin to make OCS a real
member of the Army Team?
Planning and integration. If the Army outsources
more combat and combat service support, as suggested by former Army
Vice Chief of Staff General John M. Keane, should we consider planning
for and integrating OCS into current and emerging organizations?
How Best to Achieve OCS Support
In these resource-constrained times, it is
axiomatic that the Army will increasingly be required to assume
tasks with insufficient resources. Logisticians now find themselves
increasingly concerned with the bottom line-how best to achieve
logistical support at the lowest possible cost while meeting all
demands and operational requirements.
The Army must rely ever-increasingly on OCS
to accomplish missions at the strategic, operational, and tactical
levels. OCS and Army personnel are complementary, not antithetical.
The modern paradigm, therefore, is not either contractors or service
personnel but both contractors and service personnel operating together
in a well-planned, integrated logistics system.
1. Charles R. Schrader, Contractors
on the Battlefield, Landpower Essay Series (Arlington, VA: AUSA,
Institute of Land Warfare, 1999).
2. David Wood, "National
Security," Newhouse News Service, 31 July 2003.
3. U.S. Army War College,
Key Strategic List (Carlisle Barracks, PA: September 2003), 9.
4. U.S. General Accounting
Office (GAO) GAO/NSAID-97-63, "Contingency Operations: Opportunities
to Improve Logistics Civil Augmentation Program," Letter Report,
5. Joe A. Fortner, "Institutionalizing
Contractor Support on the Battlefield," Army Logistician (July-August
6. Katherine M. Peters,
"Civilians at War," Government Executive (July 1996):
7. C.K. Prahalad and
Gary Hamel, "The Core Competence of a Corporation," Harvard
Business Review (May-June 1990): 79-91.
8. LCDR Stephen P. Ferris
and David M. Keithly, "Outsourcing the Sinews of War: Contractor
Logistics," Military Review (September-October 2001): 3.
9. U.S. Army Field Manual
110-10-2, Contracting Support on the Battlefield (Washington, DC:
U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], 4 August 1999).
10. U.S. Army Training
and Doctrine Command Pamphlet 525-53, Operational Concept: Combat
Service Support (Washington, DC: GPO, 1 April 1997).
"Contingency Operations: Army Should Do More to Control Contract
Costs in the Balkans," correspondence, 09/29/2000, 16.
12. Ibid., 15.
13. COL Stephen J.
Zamparelli, "Contractors on the Battlefield: What Have We Signed
Up For?" Air Force Journal of Logistics 23, 3 (Fall 1999).
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