In the first Iran war, we rolled out the latest military technology. We found that this created a problem. The equipment was very complex, too complex for the average military support personnel to handle. They needed to constantly call in service technicians and trainers from the manufacturers. The REAL problem was that the equipment and the trainees were on the front lines, in actual battle front conditions. The military dealt with this by “upgrading” the rules of war, and inviting civilians onto the battlefield. That created a conundrum for the military. They knew that as time went by military equipment would get more complex and need more sophisticated technicians, and the military wouldn’t be able to keep up with training and recruiting for these technical positions. The military needed to outsource key battlefront positions to civilian vendors. The military needed to outsource war!
Even before the first Iraq war (IW I), the military was outsourcing positions. Home bases were excellent places to start. The cleaning of the base, mowing of the lawns, laundering of uniforms, and cooking of meals did not have to be performed by military personnel. Computer services and all of the typical Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) that occurs in any corporation was happening in the military. However, the conditions of the battlefield were different. There are ethical considerations in placing civilians in harm’s way. Ever since the Hague Convention in 1899 and the later Geneva Convention, there are internationally accepted rules of warfare that essentially ban non-combatants (except for Red Cross and Red Crescent hospital workers) from the battlefield. Civilians, who don’t wear a military uniform but support military operations were defined as spies and other sorts who, under international law, could be immediately executed. But where does an outsourced cook fit into these rules?
During Iran war 1 (IW 1), U.S. military equipment became much more sophisticated. Equipment like the patriot missile system required on-site support by the manufacturer. But the site, is the battlefield. Driven by the need for technical support, and also by a need to contain the costs of a war, U.S. policy for the last decade has been to bring more and more contractors into the war zone. In IW 2 the plan was to go into the war with 50,000 civilian contracts, which is completely unprecedented in modern warfare. Yet, if we turn the clock back even further to Medieval times or earlier, the military was also followed by, camp followers: the wives and children of soldier, civilian cooks, maids, blacksmiths and entertainers. Just like outsourcing, the rules of warfare have changed over time.
In 2010, between Iran and Afghanistan the U.S. had a combined force of 240,000 service contractors, charging $200 billion annually. That’s $50 billion more than it cost for the 280,000 troops they were supporting. Few Americans are aware of how vast this outsourcing effort has been. However, just like other exercises in “rush to outsource” massive mistakes have been made. Outsourcing was supposed to be more cost-effective than a bloated military budget. Yet in 2010 the Congress approved a plan that would cut military spending by $5 billion, by insourcing many of the same positions that were previously given to outside contractors. And that leads us to the next stage of military outsourcing.
The government debt crisis will trigger huge cuts in the military in 2013. Come the least cost effective outsourcing projects will be targeted for elimination, saving hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years. At the same time, the expansion of robotics on the battlefield will create a new wave of outsourcing opportunities.
At the start of IW 2, there was just a handful of air drones, and no ground-based robots. We now have 15,000 air drones and 20,000 ground drones. These drones are remotely controlled, many from U.S. based locations. The robots are getting smarter, and will soon take instructions like, “Patrol this area for three days and then come back.” As more robots are put into the battlefield, more remote operators will be needed. But will they all need to be MILITARY operators?
As the cost of drones drops, and their numbers grow even larger. In a few years, the same drone technology will spread to the U.S. for monitoring border, patrolling of high-crime areas, and identifying early stage fires in parks and forests. By one estimate, thousands of drones will be active in the U.S. by the end of the decade.
This is the beginning of a huge opportunity to outsource specialized drone operator positions. While still sending the data to the military, homeland security, police and other security organizations, the remote operators can be trained and managed outside of battle and dangerous environments. The outsourcing of war technology comes at just the time when small cities are looking at ways to outsource very similar patrolling functions that are a big part of local police and sheriff's offices.
We've become used to interacting with computers, and now we’re going to learn to get along with robots. We can expect them on the battlefield and in your home town. They are going to grow in numbers, and the government is going to be the largest users of drones and patrolling robots. If you do outsourcing, this is going to be a rapidly growing area for the next ten years. After that, we can expect that the growing computer capacity of robots and their rapidly dropping price will create yet another wave robots with much greater autonomy, and much less need for operators. The robots are here, and they’re here to stay!