How Many Defense Contractors Are There?

The United States Department of Defense operates in over 190 nations worldwide. Along with serving military and civilian employees, the DoD relies upon a large number of contractors to accomplish its taskings. In fact, the term “defense contractor” is actually defined in federal law.

In February, 2017, the Congressional Research Service published a document titled Defense Primer: DOD Contractors. The document describes some basic differences in who or what is a contractor and explores the numbers involved.

Defense Contractors Show Government the Goods

The most funding for defense contractors goes to companies who furnish goods and services to the department. An aircraft carrier or a truckload of MREs are bought from defense contractors. In FY15, the DoD contracted with over 50,000 companies.

Individual contractors, people performing tasks according to a contract, are more difficult to measure. The DoD does not count fannies in seats but uses a measure called “full-time equivalents.” The CRS details the FTE counts for the armed services and for other DoD agencies for 2014, but notes that there are additional numbers in classified form that are not public.

The public total FTE for the Department of Defense was 641,428. The three armed services accounted for the vast majority of those numbers.

CENTCOM also provides data on its use of contractors. In mid-2016, it reported a total of 42,700 individual defense contractors it its Area of Operations. In Afghanistan, there were 26,435 and in Iraq there were 2,485. Not all of these personnel were American citizens. About 45 percent were Afghans and another 22 percent were third-country nationals. In Iraq, the percentages were nearly opposite.

The large numbers of locals and third-country nationals point to the two major taskings for defense contractors in both countries. The vast majority of contractors are employed in logistics and maintenance, with base support, construction, and transportation a distant second. Worth noting, however, is that there are still security personnel who are defense contractors. CRS notes about 2,800 in Afghanistan.

The CRS report has no data on the use of locals or third-country nationals at locations outside Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems logical to believe that the proportions assigned to taskings would be similar. As an example, the cleaning staff at AFRICOM HQ in Italy is likely local as would be similar situations at other bases in Germany, Korea and Japan.