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In the world’s less stable regions, diplomats, expatriate workers, company executives, celebrities, and other potential targets for militant or criminal violence depend upon security services rendered by private military contractors. Private military contractors – also known by the acronym PMCs - are the staff that work for private military companies or security firms. Because private military companies require employees with combat and security expertise, private military contractors are usually former law enforcement or military personnel. In addition, some private military companies may specialize in certain kinds of security, reconnaissance, or intelligence-gathering operations that require specialized technical skills. As such, these firms might employ pilots, translators, and other persons with only civilian experience.
Some individuals discredit private military contractors as “mercenaries”, but this is an inaccurate way to describe a modern private military contractor. Though mercenaries were a very real part of historical military conflict (and still are in particularly war-torn regions of the world), private military companies from developed, Western nations do not participate in offensive maneuvers in war zones. The Geneva Conventions, as well as the United States Military Commissions Act, prohibit private military contractors from taking offensive action in a war zone. Simply stated, private military contractors are not hired guns for combat operations; private military contractors are skilled security personnel that serve to deter the threat of violence for, and if necessary, defend persons or property they have been assigned to protect.
The private military company sector is a booming industry, and is estimated to earn at least $100 billion dollars per year in revenue. Private military companies assign their contractors to provide security services to a variety of clients. They are frequently employed by corporations that are completing projects in politically unstable regions of the world. As such, it is common to see private military contractors stationed alongside oilfield workers, infrastructure builders, and other expatriate workers in these regions. They may also be employed to secure a geographic area (such as a mine or oil field), or may serve to establish a security perimeter around a corporate installation, or a housing compound for workers.
Private military contractors also are often used to provide security to government officials and other VIPs. For instance, various heads of state will often employ private military contractors to serve as an extra buffer of security around their entourage when visiting an unstable region of the world. Additionally, they can often be employed as bodyguards for individuals that are suspected to be a valuable kidnapping target. Many individuals are surprised to learn that the United States Department of Defense is one of the largest employers of private military contractors – over 100,000 were employed in Iraq during 2006. Private military contractors were widely used as support personnel for various military operations within the region. In addition, they continue to be heavily used by multinational corporations that are continuing to carry out operations in the region.
In addition to providing physical security services, private military contractors are also often employed in intelligence-gathering operations. Private military contractors are often employed to fly planes, and to operate surveillance equipment. In addition, some firms utilize contractors that can speak two or more languages to act as interpreters during intelligence-gathering missions. In some cases, private military contractors will serve as incognito ground agents to provide reconnaissance information.
Private military contractors are also heavily utilized as trainers and consultants for various militaries around the world. Private military contractors that formerly served in particularly advanced military forces – especially from NATO member states – are highly valued around the world for their practical expertise. As a result, they are often employed as consultants by military forces from less developed nations, or by nations with smaller military forces. For instance, private military contractors were essential to the reorganization of the Taiwanese military. They are commonly used to train soldiers in practical combat skills, tactics, and equipment operation. They are often key to training international military forces to utilize new hardware that is purchased.
Not all private military contractors serve on the ground, though. More and more private military contractors are being deployed on commercial trade ships (and sometimes cruise ships and yachts) operating in the Indian Ocean. This is because pirate attacks and hijack attempts on ships in the region have increased dramatically in recent years, due to political stability on the eastern coast of Africa. After several high-profile (and very expensive) hostage situations involving African pirates, most firms operating ships in the region have turned to using private military contractors as a deterrent and defense mechanism. Sometimes private military contractors will operate one or more vessels that accompanies a larger ship. However, they will frequently operate on the decks of large tanker and cargo vessels. These days, it is fairly common to see gunners’ nests and defensive turrets established on key positions on a large vessel operating in the Indian Ocean. If pirates approach the vessel, ship captains usually authorize the contractors to fire warning shots, and if necessary, will clear the contractors to open fire on pirates before they can board the ship.
Since their work is often somewhat dangerous, private military contractors make a considerable amount of money. Depending on their skills and experience, they may be compensated between $500 and $1000 US dollars per day of work. However, most private military contractors are not compensated with benefits (insurance, retirement plans, etc), and they often do not have social security payments withheld from their paychecks. As a result, payment for work as a private military contractor may not be quite as high as it initially seems. However, most individuals find that working as a private military contractor to be an extremely well-paying job option, and are quite happy to work as a contractor for a short period of time before moving on to a more conventional (or at least, less risky) occupation. On the other hand, some private military contractors thrive on the high-pressure, high-stakes environment that they are often asked to work in, and may stay within the industry for years.