Date:31 December 2008 Tags:

As the use of private security forces in combat rises, so does the dispute over the cost. Here’s the data behind the debate.

The US military has always gone to war with civilian contractors in tow. During the American Revolution, the ratio hovered at one contractor per six soldiers; the numbers in Iraq are closer to one contractor for every person in uniform. As a result, contractor costs totalled $85 billion (almost R900 billion at current exchange rates) between 2003 and 2007.

Few of these positions require weapons, but given the nature of the assignments – as well as the muddled legal status of hired guns – many wonder if it would be cheaper to use military personnel to provide security. Last year, the US Congressional Budget Office found the costs of hiring armed guards were somewhat greater than deploying soldiers – but substantial savings occur during peacetime. When the fighting ends, so do the bills for private security.

Number of contractors, by Federal agency, working in the Iraq theatre. Most of these contractors are not armed guards; they support base operations and work on construction crews. Many are local or third-country nationals.

179 700 Department of Defence

6 700 State Department

3 500 US Agency for International Development

Soldiers vs. hired guns
The CBO used similar-size army units to compare with private guards and found that sergeants in combat earned as much as R1 900 a day – private fi rms charged a staggering R12 000 a day. Both the private security and US military fi gures included costs such as transportation and equipment, but the military statistic excluded large costs such as disability benefi ts, retirement and healthcare. The CBO determined that the actual costs were similar, in part because the Pentagon had to pay for reserve units to replace the soldiers who were leaving.

Estimated annual cost of 189 infantry with 1,2 units in reserve per unit deployed. The US Army’s goal of having two units in reserve would cost R1,1 billion.

Annual cost of 189 Blackwater security specialists, including supervisors and medics.

No assembly
Imagine a car that assembles itself, each bolt and wire falling into place just so. Don’t expect this any time soon, but scientists are making progress on a nanoscale version of this hands-free assembly line. Using some of nature’s tricks, they’re coaxing molecular rings and rods to assemble themselves into machines that could be used in smaller, more powerful computers. Other potential applications include solar cells, energy storage and catalysis. “We’re identifying building blocks that can assemble themselves into useful nanostructures,” says Yi Liu, a staff scientist in the organic nanostructures facility at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. Liu is among a growing number of scientists at Berkeley Lab and elsewhere who are working to create the perfect chemical soup in which nanosized building blocks combine to form molecular machines after only an initial nudge.

Source: Berkeley Lab