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What are PMCs? Print

Historic Timeline 

Historically, the concept of a private soldier, often called a mercenary, is nothing new. It dates to biblical times. Since the rise of the modern nation-state four centuries ago, the job of providing security has belonged to the government. Now, with the birth of the private military industry, that could be changing.

1300 B.C.
Pharaoh Ramses II of Egypt chases the escaping Israelites with an army including hired foreigners.

480 B.C.
Xerxes I, king of Persia, uses Greek mercenaries in his invasion of Greece.

A.D. 4th century
The Roman Empire contracts with bands of barbarians for its legions.

Middle Ages (500-1500)
“Free companies,” sometimes called “free lances,” hire themselves out for combat in European wars.

Capt. John Smith is hired by the Virginia Company to provide security and conduct military operations for the English settlers at Jamestown.

Revolutionary War (1776-81)
Foreigners participate on both sides: Hessians for the British; Lafayette, Pulaski and von Steuben for the colonists.

Civil War (1861-65)
European soldiers fight on both sides.

World War II (1941-42)
American Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers fly fighter planes for China against the Japanese.

Executive Outcomes, a private military company with roots in apartheid-era South Africa, is hired to put down insurgencies in Angola and Sierra Leone.

Tens of thousands of private soldiers are hired for security work on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sources: World Book, Encyclopedia Americana, Peter Singer, Jonathan Phillips

Private Military Companies or Firms

Partial extracts from Encyclopedia Encarta 


I  Introduction

Private Military Firms (PMFs), businesses that specialize in providing military services and skills.

II  Origin of Private Military Firms

Private military firms are an outgrowth of the age-old practice of mercenary warfare. PMFs offer to assist in everything from combat operations and strategic planning to intelligence support and troop training. They sell the service side of war as opposed to manufacturing the weapons of war. PMFs range from small consulting firms that offer the advice of retired generals to transnational corporations that lease out battalions of commandos. PMFs number several hundred around the globe, have earned a combined global revenue of as much as $100 billion a year, and have operated in more than 50 countries since the industry’s rise in the early 1990s.

III  Types of Private Military Firms

The private military industry is divided into three business sectors: military provider firms, military consulting firms, and military support firms.

Military provider firms, also commonly known as “private military companies” or “PMCs,” offer direct tactical military assistance to clients, including serving in front-line combat. The first PMC to work in this sector was Executive Outcomes, a former South African company which carried out operations in Angola, Congo, and Sierra Leone. Some political leaders even contemplate handing off future United Nations (UN) peacekeeping duties to such firms. See also United Nations Peacekeeping Forces.

Military consulting firms provide strategic advisory and military training expertise. Such assistance can dramatically improve military capabilities. For example, advice from MPRI (Military Professional Resources Incorporated) , a firm based in Alexandria, Virginia, is generally credited with turning the ill-trained Croat militia into a professional-like army that carried out the highly successful “Operation Storm” in 1995 in which Croat soldiers captured the Serbian-held region of Krajina. See also Croatia.

Military support firms provide logistics, intelligence, and maintenance services to armed forces. In an era of downsizing, this allows soldiers to concentrate their own energies on combat. The Halliburton Company of Houston, Texas, has been one of the major players in this trade.

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