Today's private military training industry is an increasingly important security player, writes Patrick Cullen for ISN Security Watch.By Patrick Cullen in New York for ISN Security Watch (13/03/08)Ten years ago any discussion of a global market for private military training would have been premature. Today, however, an increasingly consolidated and professionalized sector of the private security industry is changing the way states train their armed forces.The last decade has seen private security companies (PSCs) transform themselves from a small-scale and ad hoc domestic training asset or discreet tool of foreign military assistance into an important global supplier of military training.This fact has been most dramatically illustrated by the prominent transnational training role played by PSCs in Afghanistan and Iraq, where private firms have been awarded a spectrum of large-scale training contracts for the new Afghan and Iraqi military and police forces. The scale of this private training is truly massive. The US-based PSC Dyncorp's ongoing work training the Afghanistan police force, for example, has been valued at over US$1 billion dollars.While these large training contracts of non-western armed forces have received the lion's share of media attention, western armed forces are undergoing an equally transformative shift toward the use of private military training. With courses ranging from advanced rifle marksmanship and close quarter combat techniques to more technologically sophisticated flight simulation centers, the private security industry is now offering governments an alternative to government-owned and operated military training and facilities.As a result, today's military training is being reconceptualized as a service and sold as a market commodity with governments and defense bureaucracies increasingly acting as "customers" that no longer assume the military has a monopoly on expertise. Instead, governments are looking within their own armed forces and externally to the private security industry to fulfill their training requirements.
A growing and consolidating industry
Though the current private military training industry is global in scope, its origins are decidedly Anglo-American in nature and can be traced back to the 1960s.In the British experience, small numbers of retired special operations personnel provided military training to Third World armed forces of UK allies. In the US model, by contrast, as early as the 1970s the US military was tapping into the private sector for training ranging from sniper shooting techniques to advanced parachuting and driving skills.The British model of exporting private training and the domestic training model proliferated during the 1980s and early 1990s. However, the size of the private military training industry as well as the size of the market remained limited. As late as the early 1990s, many of the more successful PSC training firms still consisted of merely a dozen employees and trained perhaps no more than 3,000 military and police students per year."If you were making more than US$3 million a year doing tactical training, you were one of the bigger players," one private security firm director told ISN Security Watch.Today, professional estimates of the size of this industry have ranged in excess of US$100 billion, and individual PSCs boast massive resources. For example, Military Professionals Resources, Inc (MPRI) - a premier supplier of doctrine based military training both within the US and abroad - has seen rapid and steady growth over the past decade. Between 1997 and 2005, MPRI grew from 400 employees and a business volume of US$48 million to over 3,000 employees worldwide and reported revenues exceeding US$2 billion.With 100 trainers on staff, the PSC Blackwater Worldwide's training center in the US state of North Carolina - a massive 6,000 acre facility including 40 computerized shooting ranges, sophisticated shoothouses, parachute drop zones, a mock village, two mock ships and miles of driving track - exemplifies the new, infrastructure-intensive penetration of the private security industry into the tactical military training market.In its single largest contract to date, Blackwater was hired to train 50,000 US Navy personnel in weapons handling and force protection. These types of numbers - both in terms of revenue as well as the amount of military personnel trained - constitute a sea change in the nature of private military training.This growth has occurred in tandem with an increasing consolidation between the armaments and military training sectors as major defense manufacturers such as Boeing have entered the training market to take advantage of its expanding revenues. The acquisitions of the PSCs MPRI and Vinnell Corporation by defense contractors L-3 Communications and Northrop Grumman exemplify this trend.As the military training industry has evolved and matured, so has its ability to project itself as a professional and legitimate member of the defense industry. The Washington, DC-based International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) and the British Association of Private Security Companies (BAPSC), founded in 2001 and 2006, respectively, represent the new and formalized advocacy efforts being made by these security firms.At the same time, as governments become increasingly wedded to the idea of acting as customers of defense services, they are changing the way they do business. For example, in 1998 the Pentagon's acquisition process was radically revamped by establishing online electronic "shopping malls" that have brought potential government clients together with private security firms selling military training services.This online network has increased the visibility of smaller PSCs offering military training to the Pentagon and has simultaneously increased the visibility of Defense Department "requests for proposals" for such private training. "The fact that the US government sets aside many of these training contracts for small business owners has meant that small PSCs continue to proliferate," Rich Weaver, president of ArmorGroup International Training, told ISN Security Watch.Nor is this phenomenon in any way limited to the US. The Israeli defense export organization, Sibat, has created an online defense sales catalogue that advertises the military training services of a series of small Israeli PSCs to prospective overseas clients.Similarly, organizations such as the UK's Defense Manufacturers Association (DMA) traditionally geared toward promoting the country's defense industry products have also turned to the internet to facilitate a growing demand in the international market for defense-related services. Describing itself as a "one stop consultancy shop" for all aspects of defense and security related needs, the DMA actively seeks to create online networks between UK firms offering training services to foreign militaries and other overseas customers looking for military training.
Private military going global
As this training market expands and both the government clients and the PSCs that work for them become more sophisticated, the distinct US and UK historical models of private military training are converging.Today, not only are PSCs from around the world more energetically marketing their training services to foreign and domestic militaries, but they are also more frequently operating offices and even training facilities in countries around the world.For example, MPRI has operated in more than 40 countries worldwide and has opened subsidiary offices in Europe and the Middle East. In Africa alone, the company has supported the US State Department's African Contingency Operations and Assistance Program (ACOTA), conducted armed forces re-professionalizing programs in Nigeria, operated a sophisticated maritime simulations center in Egypt, trained the armed forces of Equatorial Guinea, and worked in a wide range of training programs in support of the South African Department of Defence. Most recently, MPRI won a US$15 million contract to provide instructors for a "Baghdad Counterinsurgency Center for Excellence" through the year 2010.The security firm Olive Group is another example of these new transnational expansionist tendencies. Created in 2001 by a small group of retired UK SAS soldiers operating out of a small London office, Olive has grown and diversified rapidly into a self-described "global company in terms of our presence, perspective, and people."The firm has moved its headquarters to Internet City, Dubai, and operates from 30 locations in five continents employing over 500 personnel with annual returns of US$90 million, while maintaining offices in the US, the UK, Kuwait, India, Singapore, Jordan, Afghanistan and Iraq.Olive Group is currently transforming part of its 780-acre training facility based in Nesbit, Mississippi into a "mock combat village - a nine-block city replica complete with residential areas, government buildings, schools, retail stores and roundabouts designed in Middle Eastern architecture" in an effort to win "military operations in urban environment" contracts from the US Defense Department.Nor is Olive the only PSC that has decided to invest in "brick-and-mortar" training facilities in countries around the world. As part of this business strategy the multinational ArmorGroup has opened a series of training centers in the UK, the US and the Middle East. In Afghanistan, they opened a US$2 million facility built to house and train 300 students in close quarter battle techniques.In Iraq, ArmorGroup created a training compound south of Baghdad equipped with NATO-standard shooting ranges, which has been used to train Iraqi security personnel. Together, these Middle Eastern training facilities have trained thousands of local national security personnel.At the same time, the firm's US subsidiary, ArmorGroup International Training, Inc, has expanded its firearms training capabilities with a variety of specialized shooting ranges for pistols, shotguns and carbines. These training centers, based in Texas and Virginia, have provided counterterrorism and force protection training to a wide spectrum of Defense and State Department personnel.
Re-thinking military training
Today, PSCs act as the agent and the effect of a de-linking of military training from the state's armed forces. The privatization of military training means that the providers have become pluralized and that governments are increasingly likely to competitively search for the best military training solutions from a host of public and private sources.Though this is more prevalent in the US than the rest of the world, it is becoming a global phenomenon. This fact is underscored by the increasingly transnational nature of the PSCs providing this military training. Ultimately, if these changes become institutionalized over the long term - and it is not clear that this is not already the case -this will require an analytical shift in the way we view the institution of military training itself.
Patrick Cullen is a political risk consultant and an expert on issues pertaining to the private security industry. He is the author of numerous academic and professional publications on the subject. He is currently finishing his doctorate at the London School of Economics and is based in Manhattan, New York.