Military Contractors and the ‘Shadow War’

Military Contractors and the ‘Shadow War’

In a new book, author and former 82nd Airborne trooper Sean McFate says America’s military is ill-suited to fight in places like Africa and Syria.

The former trooper and private military contractor now teaches at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service as well as the National Defense University. The New Rules of War argues against large allocations for aircraft carriers and other such items. Instead, “covert and clandestine” efforts which use “proxies” are much more effective, he concludes. These things “manufacture the fog of war and then exploit it for victory,” he added.

McFate says that he has given briefings to generals about the issues and principles raised in his book.

Contractor Disadvantages

There are no perfect solutions in an imperfect world. Private military contractors are not the perfect solution to the shadow war issue, but the problems are not insurmountable.

Control is one issue. Governments control contractors, but only indirectly. Governments only control the end result, like deployment issues. Furthermore, governments have little or no say-so in the training process.

In America, the rule of law applies, at least in the vast majority of cases. No one is above the law. If misconduct occurs, there is accountability through the courts. That accountability may not come for quite some time, but it is coming. The other aspect of the rule of law is that there is no action without notice and opportunity to be heard.

Additionally, contractors are much more expensive than regular servicemembers, at least in the short term. The cost is even higher when considering the fees that the DoD, or whichever agency does the hiring, must pay the contracting firm.

Partially, the government pays for convenience. A pint of ice cream is a lot more expensive at a corner convenience store than at Walmart. That is because customers might spend 30 seconds in a convenience store and 30 minutes at Walmart.

Disposability is a consideration, as well. When servicemembers finish deployment, they generally stay on the payroll. Later, when their service ends, the government remains responsible for benefits like healthcare and retirement. However, when contractor deployment ends, all contractual obligations cease.

There is also the matter of deniability. Contractors do not contribute to casualty and deployment figures. They are essentially invisible, and invisibility is not free. More on this issue below.

Finally, there are some misconceptions about contractors. The government must endure these criticisms. For example, many people think that “mercenaries” and “contractors” are the same thing. Even people who should know better, like Navy veterans who write books on the subject, make this mistake.

But people will always believe what they want to believe. The facts just get in the way. So, public perception should never drive policy decisions.

Contractor Advantages

For the most part, contractors are very well-suited to fight the ongoing shadow war. That has been the case for many years.and it remains true today.

As mentioned, contractors offer deniability. Typically, the significant public support for a military excursion quickly fades. When contractors are in the field, there is little or no pressure to “bring the boys home.” Many Americans are unaware of contractor presence, and many others believe that private military contractors are in foreign countries by choice.

This deniability applies to overseas politicians, as well. Americans are not particularly popular in many parts of the world. Since contractors do not count in the official tallies, overseas leaders can say with a straight face that the American military presence is limited.

Contractors also offer more flexibility than regular servicemembers, a quality which is critical in the Shadow War. After one phone call, contractors are boots-on-the-ground exactly where they are needed.

The soldiers who arrive are usually experienced veterans. Most private military contractors are either former servicemembers or police officers. Either way, they are experienced in a particular type of operation. So, there is little or no learning curve.

As mentioned, the long-term cost is much lower as well. The government has no financial obligation once contractor deployment ends.

Successful Case Studies

These advantages are apparent wherever contractors are deployed and regardless of the type of mission. Some recent successful case studies include:

  • Guam: Tension in the South China Sea has transformed Guam from a lonely outpost in the Central Pacific to a key forward operating base. Contractors have the flexibility to move in quickly and fill sudden needs. Later, when the tension dies down, these contractors will go home.
  • Iraq/Afghanistan: These theaters are much the same, both from a geographic and missional standpoint. Contractors have the experience to operate in hostile environments and the skills to deal with insurgents. That’s why, at many points, the contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan practically outnumber the regular servicemembers.
  • Korea/Japan: Once again, these two theaters have much in common. The primary enemy is North Korea, and the weapons of war are quite sophisticated. Contractors have the background to operate and maintain these systems.

Contractors do not just successfully serve in combat situations. When postwar rebuilding begins, contractors are there. These individuals do the work of reconstruction and also provide security.

Injury Compensation Available

In all these places and in all these situations, there is a risk of injury. Regular servicemembers may count on the VA to provide medical assistance. Injured contractors can count on the Defense Base Act.

The 1941 DBA covers contractors who was injured in overseas war zones. Both these terms deserve some further explanation.

Even though Guam is a U.S. territory and American embassies are technically American soil, these places are still “overseas” as far as the DBA is concerned. In fact, this law also applies to some contractors who work for some sympathetic foreign governments.

Furthermore, a “war zone” is not limited to places where bullets are flying. There need not even be an imminent danger of combat. Rather, any country which has an American military installation is a war zone for DBA purposes. That includes friendly nations where there is little risk of hostile activity, like Italy and Germany.

Compensation is available for occupational diseases as well. Many contractors suffer from conditions like hearing loss or joint pain. Typically, the DBA pays for both lost wages and medical bills in these situations.

Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A. for more information about DBA benefits.