The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has today released its report, War and Profit: Doing business on the battlefield.
It says the past 15 years have seen a rapid growth in private sector firms supporting military operations. From logistics to paramilitary security, the private sector is increasingly playing a critical role on the battlefield.
In recent years, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has employed the private sector to varying degrees in East Timor, Bougainville, Afghanistan and Iraq. Patrick Defence Logistic provided logistical support in the Solomon Islands at a cost of $49 million a year.
By and large, this has worked well, say the ASPI, freeing ADF logistics capacity for other tasks. But in each case the ADF used contractors to replace its own support elements only some time after the initial deployment.
ASPI thinks that the time is ripe to go further. Its proposal is contained in the following four recommendations:
- Move now to prearrange contract support for operations. The ADF should follow the lead of both the UK and US and contract a logistics support partner to be ready to support deployments at short notice. Given recent experience, such a contract would naturally cover both military operations and humanitarian crises.
- Sharpen the capability to manage contractors. If the ADF makes more extensive use of contractor support to operations, it will need the doctrine, skills and capacity to do so effectively. The aim should be to employ the highest standards of commercial acumen, supported by quality legal advice.
- Tighten the legal framework and related policies. The government should introduce a regulatory regime to control the provision of military, paramilitary and policing services, training and support akin to the export control regime for arms and military technology.
- Transfer saved resources into combat capability. If contractors more fully shouldered the burden in operations, savings should be re-directed to combat capabilities. Of course, it would still be necessary to retain a core ADF organic support capability for high-intensity operations where contractor support is impractical.
"In recent years, the tempo of Australian Defence Force operations has risen to meet a more demanding strategic environment. Properly employed, contractor support will allow our defence forces to sustain this tempo and better meet the challenges of the future," report author Mark Thomson says.
Thompson says while most rear-echelon support tasks have been permanently outsourced, direct support on or near the battlefield largely remains an ADF role, with only ad hoc private sector involvement.
In contrast, the US, and to a lesser extent the UK, now rely extensively on private firms to provide logistics support in operational areas. Companies such as Kellogg, Brown and Root are a fundamental part of the US military effort in Iraq.
ADF's use of the private sector to varying degrees in East Timor, Bougainville, Afghanistan and Iraq has has worked well, argues Thompson, freeing precious ADF logistics capacity for other tasks. But in each case the ADF used contractors to replace its own support elements only some time after the initial deployment.
Thompson says the benefits of using contractors are greatest when their support is on call and ready to go as an integrated part of overall military preparedness. This allows contractor support to be employed from the first day of operations, thereby keeping sparse military logistics capacity in reserve for higher intensity operations where contractor support would be impractical.
"Both the US and UK now have long-term contracts with logistics contractors for this reason. In the case of the US, the contractor stands ready to provide an extensive package of logistics support for up to 25,000 troops anywhere around the globe at 15 days notice," he says.
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