At their peak in the summer of 2008, there were more than 160,000 Defense Department-hired contractors in Iraq, outnumbering troops by some 8,000. In Afghanistan, about 90,000 contract employees are providing services that range from security to transport, logistics support and training. Worldwide, the use of armed contractors is on the rise with nation-states buying security services and expertise that their own militaries do not possess.
A congressional report will be published this summer that examines issues concerning U.S. wartime contracting and the potential for abuse. Our cover author, T.X. Hammes, takes a broader look at where contractor services make sense in a combat zone, where their use is more problematic, and the need for clearer policy guidelines.
Another trend in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars has been the heavy reliance on the reserve components, which have become so integrated with the active force that the phrase “operational reserve” has been coined. Dennis McCarthy, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, outlines new Pentagon thinking on how the National Guard and reserves should be used in the future given the huge changes since 9/11.
The 21st century wars have also heralded a new era of robot technology and unmanned vehicles on and over the battlefield. Lt. Col. Tony Cruz argues that advances in artificial intelligence, coupled with unmanned technologies, mean that military robots are outpacing the policies we have for their use.
Former Air Force ISR chief Dave Deptula touches on the same theme with his prediction that the use of UAVs in current campaigns is just the beginning; with DoD now talking about potentially replacing AWACS and Rivet Joint aircraft with unmanned systems, today’s UAVs could be regarded as the Wright Flyers of their time.
Cmdr. Michael Hallett addresses a recurring issue of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — how military and civilian organizations work together, especially in the post-conflict reconstruction phase.
Pete Singer, meanwhile, calls on President Obama to use the changing of the guard at the Pentagon as the right time to make a defense policy speech, and to set out his goals for the new SecDef.