The term “defense contractor” describes an immense array of businesses that provide products and services to government agencies that specialize in various “defense” operations. These departments of government include various branches of a military, intelligence and reconnaissance agencies, and even police departments. Defense contractors either sell products to these agencies, or provide support services that help these agencies carry out their various operations. However, defense contractors should not be confused with private military contractor (PMC) or mercenary firms that directly support military operations. Defense contractors rarely provide direct support of military operations, and no major defense contractor does so.
What do Defense contractors provide?
Defense contractors may sell various defense-related products to government agencies. Defense contractors are well-known as the companies that manufacture aircraft, ships, ground vehicles, weapons, satellites, and electronics for military and defense purposes. Generally, a government agency will approach qualified defense contractors with specifications for equipment that they would like to have produced. Several defense contractors will then compete for a government contract to produce and support whatever piece of equipment has been proposed. Defense contractors will compete to present the government agency with a superior design that meets their specified equipment standards, and will also compete to provide the highest amount of value for the lowest price. The contract to produce and support the equipment will then be granted to the firm that does the best job – hence the name “defense contractor”. Most defense contractors generate a majority of their revenue by participating in (and winning) contracts in this highly competitive manner. In addition, contracts offered by government agencies usually have clauses that allow the government agency to cancel the contract in the event that the development of equipment goes awry or ends up being substandard. This means that defense contractors are always under intense pressure to perform, and always seek to live up to the very highest standards possible.
In addition, defense contractors also compete to provide a variety of necessary services to government defense agencies. In these cases the government is seeking to outsource certain tasks to a contractor. Because of the way government pay grades and compensation plans work, this outsourcing allows the government to save money on personnel expenses associated with various projects. In addition, government agencies are generally unable to employ people for short periods of time in order to complete temporary stages of a larger project, or to meet other temporary personnel needs. As a result, defense contractors can step in to fill personnel gaps created by temporary project demands or other less-than-permanent needs. Defense contractors usually employ persons with high degrees of flexibility and expertise that are able to quickly adjust to new work demands created by government agency requests.
There are a few primary types of service contract that government agencies create with defense contractors. First and foremost, equipment maintenance contracts are extremely common. Rather than dealing with training their own personnel and keeping up with the latest and greatest in technology standards (which seems to change overnight), government agencies often prefer to let defense contractors deal with this sort of hassle. This frees up valuable government personnel resources while ensuring that equipment is maintained, repaired, and upgraded as necessary. Another common type of service contract includes the development and deployment of training programs. Whenever government defense personnel need to be trained to use new technology, defense contractors are often charged with designing a training curriculum, and then providing training courses to high-level government defense workers (who may later be responsible for training their subordinates). Defense contractors may also generate the training material needed for a larger roll out of new equipment or technology. In this manner, the defense contractor serves a quick and relatively inexpensive source of expertise for the government.
Defense contractors may also provide services such as logistics support, which enables government agencies to maintain a clearer focus on their missions. For instance, defense contractors will often handle transport logistics and other essential tasks that are quite important during mission execution, but are ultimately tangential to the direct execution of the mission. For instance, during the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq War, coalition and U.S. military bases of operation often depended upon defense contractors to set up essential base components such as water treatment, sewage, electrical systems, and housing. Other contractors were charged with the installation, maintenance, and operation of kitchen and dining facilities. This allowed military branches to reduce their overall footprints on the ground, without sacrificing any of the necessities or amenities that might have been impossible without the assistance of defense contractors.
Defense contractors seldom serve the defense agencies exclusively. Most are very actively involved in the development of technology necessary for modern infrastructure, and most are quite heavily involved in the civilian aerospace market. Presently, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, and Boeing are the largest and most recognizable defense contractors in the world. Other prominent defense contractors include Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Raytheon. In addition to serving as the go-to source for government defense needs, these companies also provide valuable equipment, services, and personnel to a variety of non-defense interests. Each sells a variety of products and services to airports, airlines, air freight haulers, ocean freighter companies, port authorities, power companies and utilities, and are primary suppliers of equipment, services and labor for the U.S. space program. They also build satellites and other complicated technology systems for other companies, and are often leaders in promoting cultivation of green energy programs.
The defense sector remains a primary area of growth for the United States. It is a constant generator of jobs for Americans, and helps cultivate the talent necessary to keep the United States on top in terms of technological growth and advancement. Many technologies that civilians are familiar with today were once the result of research projects carried out by a defense contractor. Inevitably, the discoveries that are made in the pursuit of providing high-quality military and defense equipment will trickle down into consumer technology, promoting improved efficiency and overall quality of life not only for Americans, but for people around the world.