There have always been mercenaries, and even mercenary forces. During the Cold War various types of deniable, surrogate military units were created for covert operations, primarily by the United States. The transition to more professional, heavily equipped private armies (more comfortingly described as “security forces”) began to occur during the American involvement in Iran and then Afghanistan.

As events proved, there were some negative consequences associated with such units, especially in Iran. In fact “Blackwater” accumulated sufficient baggage that the whole concept of such security forces came into disrepute. As an example Libya refused to accept American associated private security forces. That became a contributing factor in the fiasco at the American embassy in Benghazi. While the CIA employed private contractors in Benghazi, they had to be kept low profile since the Libyan government refused to accept them. Even when deployed under diplomatic cover as security for the CIA station (physically distant from the embassy), they could not be stationed directly at the embassy for its own security facility security.

Despite a questionable history, private armies (security forces) have grown substantially and I suspect most readers will be surprised by both their size and military capabilities – described in these links (if the links don’t load for you a search for “private security contractors” will give you current information:

One of the newer trends is the growth of private military contractors is with private air forces. These days some of the largest, most technically advanced, and capable modern forces are actually privately owned.  Any single one of them could defeat many nations in aerial action – and it remains to be seen (as it does with private security contractors) what legal constraints if any affect them?:

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/30557/air-force-hires-seven-companies-in-long-awaited-mega-adversary-air-support-contract

https://www.defensenews.com/air/2020/01/13/red-air-providers-prep-for-a-big-year/

For that matter, I suspect that most would be surprised at the scale of “private” military combat still going on by Russian surrogate forces against the government of the Ukraine. While that conflict as a whole is more in the nature of the surrogate force efforts of the United States during the Cold War, the use of private Russian military contractors is much more line with what is evolving in terms of private armies in the 21st Century. :

https://euobserver.com/foreign/147507

That trend is something I elaborate on at some length in my new book “In Denial: Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks”. 

Deniable warfare circa 2020 is taking a variety of forms, China and Iran are approaching it in a much different fashion than Russia and President Putin.

However given the scope of what Russian is doing with its private military contractors, it’s pretty amazing how little media coverage it receives in the United States.  Of course given the combination of how America has turned inwards combined with the pandemic perhaps that is understandable.  These days our major media outlets have very little left of the foreign correspondent news force they used to field, and do virtually no international news reporting of any depth presently.

For those who have not been following what Russia and Russian oligarchs are doing with private armies I would offer the following news links:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/russian-military-group-deployed-1200-people-libya-report-200507113646940.html

https://www.theafricareport.com/16511/russias-murky-business-dealings-in-the-central-african-republic/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/25/venezuela-maduro-russia-private-security-contractors

While Russian security contractors are well organized and clearly directed as part of Putin’s global influence strategy, it would be hard to say the same thing for their American counterparts. In that regard it’s also pretty amazing that a security contractor that services President Trump’s political events could have stepped into the following mess in Venezuela in the fashion described in this article.

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33322/breaking-down-the-absolutely-batshit-botched-coup-attempt-against-venezuelas-maduro

About the only thing that weighs in against this being part of some American strategy is the utter dysfunction of the operation. On the other hand it provides an interesting contrast between the private armies integrated into Russian strategies and the activities of American security contractors.

2 responses »

  1. AnthonyM says:

    At first sight it seems puzzling that the USAF would want to pay for their F15, F22 etc pilots to practice against 1950’s technology such as the A4 or 1960’s aircraft such as the F1 Mirage?
    Unless all the billions spent on modern aircraft have been a waste of money this would seem to be poor preparation for US pilots as compared to practicing against each other? I may well be missing something of course.

    The Venezuelan operation seemed so reminiscent of the less successful Cuban operations 60 years ago that I am not entirely convinced by denials of US knowledge, but it will probably be many decades before the full nature of US operations in Venezuela are public.

  2. larryjoe2 says:

    In regard to the contract aggressor forces, generally speaking in today’s actual air combat its more a war of electronics than of the platforms themselves. The advantage of the fifth generation aircraft are a combination of stealth and communications/networking to enable the aircraft to use data streams from other sources to avoid or defeat the adversary. As to combat itself, once the new aircraft are somehow identified its back to aircraft vs. aircraft and the speeds and maneuverability of the front line American aircraft are not substantially different – if you saw the first Top Gun movie you saw the aggressor aircraft being flown were much earlier types, slower but generally as maneuverable at low speeds – which is where combat occurs. The pilots were being taught those air combat skills.

    These new aggressor aircraft may be older platforms but they have hugely upgraded electronics warfare suites, putting them in somewhat the same class as the front line fighters they face. And once you move into combat where the stealth is gone and each opponent can see the other it comes back to skills…which are of course what are being taught.

    Beyond that the newer aircraft are so horrendously expensive that we can only afford a very limited number and those need to go into deployment. We have become trapped in a situation where we cannot afford even a modest sized combat air force – which is why the new strategies are all going to be around developing numbers of low cost, autonomous unmanned aircraft that can work with the few front line aircraft we have and restore some sort of numerical balance.

    Bottom line is that an aggressor force as described in the articles makes sense, privatizing it is a political decision. Just as we are moving to privatize our tanker force because we are so inept at purchasing and its so political that the Air Force bet its whole tanker plan on Boeing and Boeing’s tanker is years behind and not serviceable for front line missions for years.

    As to Venezuela, my take on it is that if anything its more like Nicaragua under Reagan, people that worked for Trump and were using this contractor already put the word in somebody’s ear that Trump really wanted to overthrow Madero so there would be all sorts of favors to be had if they could negotiate something to make that happen…all verbal, all deniable, all somebody trying to do what Trump wants….but given private armies, you didn’t even need Oliver North to give it a shot.

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