When the next administration begins to make difficult choices about its national defense priorities, force structure will be a key concern -- and a critical piece of that debate will involve the balance between soldiers, civilians and contractors, said Nelson Ford, under secretary of the Army, at a discussion at the Brookings Institution yesterday.
"Any serious or purposeful discussion of size must include the role of contractors, without them much of the Army's mission would be simply impossible," said Ford.
While he described contractors as indispensable to current military operations, he asked, "Are they more or less expensive than Army civilians or soldiers? What are the associated costs with having contractors on the battlefield?"
Ford said 60 National Guard security companies are on the ground in Iraq, mostly doing force protection for light trucks -- contractor trucks. "That's a cost of having a contractor on the ground."
The Army currently has 230,000 civilians, 130,000 permanent contractors and180,000 temporary contractors -- though Ford called the number for temporary contractors an educated guess, saying, "We really don't know how many contractors we have."
During his first week at the Pentagon, back in 2002, Ford was in a meeting where officials discussed the appropriate role of contractors on the battlefield. "I've got to say that that conversation has not gone forward very effectively. We still don't understand that."
While these issues won't be resolved on his watch, Ford said they will be central to the next administration's decisions about how large the Army should be and what it should be tasked to do.
-- Kate Brannen