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What Is a Military Contractor?

Private businesses are not the only ones that outsource work. The military also relies on outside parties to complete specific tasks. All branches of the US military work with private contractors, which are also called military contractors. So, what is a military contractor exactly?

Military contractors are individuals or companies that enter contracts with the military to provide services, construction, or supplies. Contractors are involved in a variety of tasks, from gathering intelligence to constructing military facilities. However, the largest contractors come from the aerospace industry.

What Do Contractors in the Military Do?

A military contractor is simply a person or company contracted by the military. In the US, the Department of Defense (DoD) is responsible for acquiring services or supplies from contractors for each branch of the military.

The following 10 departments account for the largest share of contracts:

  • Department of the Army
  • Department of the Air Force
  • Department of the Navy
  • US Special Operations Command
  • Missile Defense Agency
  • Defense Logistics Agency
  • Defense Information Systems Agency
  • Office of the Secretary of Defense
  • Defense Health Affairs
  • US Strategic Command

In 2017, the DoD contracted over 464,500 full-time contractors for direct labor. The DoD hires unarmed and armed private security contractors to assist with overseas operations.

At the end of 2020, the DoD was working with about 44,000 contractors in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Security contractors are involved in protecting locations, guarding convoys, providing security escorts, and training local police or military personnel.

While the DoD contracts many security contractors, most of the spending on contractors goes to the production of military aircraft and equipment. The five largest military contracts are with companies in the aerospace industry:

Along with security contractors and aerospace companies, the DoD hires people to work as medics, IT technicians, firefighters, background investigators, and logistics coordinators.

Are Military Contractors Considered Military?

Modern military contractors are not technically considered military. The Secretary of Defense has the power to determine that work completed by civilian contractors is considered active service, which would qualify the contractors as military personnel for collecting VA benefits.

The Secretary of Defense gained the ability to recognize contractor work as active service after the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977 was passed. The legislation does not automatically qualify contractors for VA benefits or classify contractors as military personnel. Only the Secretary of Defense can make that determination.

The Secretary of Defense has only recognized contractor work as active service for select groups of contractors involved in World War I and World War II. Additionally, the term “contractor” does not apply to service members, DoD career employees, or civilian political appointees.

While military contractors are not classified as military personnel, many contractors are veterans. Contractors who serve in active combat zones may also be considered military by the service members that they assist.

What Is a Private Military Company?

A private military company (PMC) is a private company that provides armed services for profit. The services provided by PMCs often included armed patrols, escorts, or training. Many militaries rely on PMCs for assistance in active combat zones. Outsourcing to PMCs frees up resources, allowing ground units to remain flexible.

PMCs employ a wide range of individuals with different specializations. However, most of the employees who work for PMCs are veterans. The individuals hired by PMCs are referred to as contractors, security contractors, or military contractors.

The US military has increased its reliance on PMCs over the years. In the 1990s, the US military maintained a ratio of about 50 military personnel for every 1 contractor. The military now has 10 active service members for every 1 contractor. The PMC industry is estimated to be worth between $100 to $400 billion in annual revenue.

Do Military Contractors Need Military Experience?

Military or law enforcement experience is necessary for most positions involving armed services. Private military companies typically only hire individuals with relevant experience. Jobs involving armed patrols or armed escorts typically require a background in the military or police.

Yet, military experience is not required for all military contracts. The military requires contractors to handle a wide range of support services. IT professionals, mechanics, medics, and other non-armed positions do not require military experience.

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