Claude Berube has written three articles on private security firms can contribute to the Navy. The first was an article for Orbis called Blackwaters for the Blue Waters: The Promise of Private Naval Companies (subscription only). His second article was in the November issue of Proceedings "Now Hear This" section called Contracts of Marque. Both articles introduce interesting ideas for outsourcing low intensity maritime conflicts to private security firms. Before someone dismisses it out of hand, lets keep in mind that contract naval services in the form of privateers defined United States naval power prior to the 20 century, and often we find good ideas are nothing more than old ideas used a new way.
Lt. Berube's latest article fits the theme for the last week, expeditionary warfare, and will go very well with the theme over the coming weeks. The Cooperative Maritime Strategy puts the our nations maritime forces into a posture for a Strategic Defensive in dealing with emerging challenges, including challenges like globalization and The Long War. When Maritime Forces are in a Strategic Defensive posture, Julian S. Corbett makes the point in his study of Maritime Strategy that it is important to seize the offensive at the operational level when opportunity allows. I believe that humanitarian missions represent one of many tactics our maritime forces can exploit as opportunity allows to go on the offensive at the operational level in The Long War.
Lt. Berube's article in Serviam magazine, called A Coalition of the Capable, How private naval companies can expand humanitarian efforts, is an interesting take on how maritime forces can utilize private security firms to cost efficiently address humanitarian response. The article lists a number of historical examples, including the role of Blackwater in response to Hurricane Katrina, and he makes an interesting case.
While PSCs have proliferated in recent years, particularly with operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, applying global security operations to the maritime environment hasn’t fully matured, much less been explored. McLellan, a former Navy surface warfare officer, suggests that they’re “ahead of our time; people are just catching on to the value” of using private companies to support the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard. Pistris’ approach to its maritime component in support of humanitarian assistance efforts is its innovative use of commercial craft. Pistris is partnered with a shipyard that converts fast support boats for use with multimillion-dollar yachts. Yacht owners don’t want their own decks encumbered with helicopters, small boats, or supplies, so they purchase these boats that trail behind. Since everything is now modular, according to McLellan, you could easily install containers of surgical supplies or anything else the mission requires.
Another firm pursuing at-sea opportunities is Blackwater Worldwide. Tom Ridenour, the director of maritime operations at Blackwater, is a retired Coast Guard captain. Last year, Blackwater purchased the former National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration ship M/V McArthur, which was launched in 1966. Since then, Ridenour and his crew have refurbished the ship, which now includes capacity for several rigid hull inflatable boats and a flight deck and hangar that can house two helicopters. Like the Pistris vessels, the McArthur has room for 20-foot modular containers. With a crew of 13, the McArthur can deploy with up to 42 government, military, or nongovernmental personnel.
The humanitarian mission exists, and it is important. Berube notes that the hospital ships are enormous, and are very effective but limited to major ports. As we have observed in humanitarian response, the most important part isn't being able to support humanitarian operations in major ports, rather in areas where major port facilities do not exist. The capabilities required are expensive, and if they do not fit into the strategy for dealing with major war, the Navy will not spend money for such capabilities with their limited budget funds, nor should they.
Private Security Firms have a bad reputation. We would argue this has less to do with private security firms being a bad idea than with certain agencies in the government doing a poor job managing their contracts. In observing Congress in dealing with Blackwater in Iraq, we observed our elected leaders on both sides of the isle recognized rather quickly that the private security firms were doing a good job, but were not being managed well with the policies and standards of the government agencies involved. We see this as a process issue to be worked out, and see a future where government will be able to utilize private contractors for a number of services more cost efficiently than traditional military forces. Examples include environmental hazard disposal, humanitarian response, and security services in developing countries and as part of post war operations. Unlike some, we don't dismiss the potential of contract services for military related operations based on previous mistakes, recognizing that mistakes happen and lessons can be learned.
We see private security firms as a force multiplier for low intensity operations such as humanitarian response, particularly for the Navy where the number of sailors is being reduced, and primary responsibilities at the high end of military power are so expensive. Low cost solutions, like outsourcing the vital but manpower intensive role of humanitarian response is an interesting use of private military contractors, and a cost effective way to fill the gaps that will always exist in the Leviathan force of the US Navy.
Lieutenant Berube teaches in the political science and history departments at the U.S. Naval Academy. The co-author of two books, he served with Expeditionary Strike Group Five in the Persian Gulf (2004-05), has worked for two U.S. senators, as a civil servant, and with a defense firm.