Ten years ago any discussion of a global market for private military training would have been premature. Today, however, an increasingly consolidated and professionalized sector of the private security industry is changing the way states train their armed forces.
The last decade has seen private security companies (PSCs) transform themselves from a small-scale and ad hoc domestic training asset or discreet tool of foreign military assistance into an important global supplier of military training.
This fact has been most dramatically illustrated by the prominent transnational training role played by PSCs in Afghanistan and Iraq, where private firms have been awarded a spectrum of large-scale training contracts for the new Afghan and Iraqi military and police forces. The scale of this private training is truly massive. The US-based PSC Dyncorp's ongoing work training the Afghanistan police force, for example, has been valued at over US$1 billion dollars.
While these large training contracts of non-western armed forces have received the lion's share of media attention, western armed forces are undergoing an equally transformative shift toward the use of private military training. With courses ranging from advanced rifle marksmanship and close quarter combat techniques to more technologically sophisticated flight simulation centers, the private security industry is now offering governments an alternative to government-owned and operated military training and facilities.
As a result, today's military training is being reconceptualized as a service and sold as a market commodity with governments and defense bureaucracies increasingly acting as "customers" that no longer assume the military has a monopoly on expertise. Instead, governments are looking within their own armed forces and externally to the private security industry to fulfill their training requirements.
A growing and consolidating industry
Though the current private military training industry is global in scope, its origins are decidedly Anglo-American in nature and can be traced back to the 1960s.
In the British experience, small numbers of retired special operations personnel provided military training to Third World armed forces of UK allies. In the US model, by contrast, as early as the 1970s the US military was tapping into the private sector for training ranging from sniper shooting techniques to advanced parachuting and driving skills.
The British model of exporting private training and the domestic training model proliferated during the 1980s and early 1990s. However, the size of the private military training industry as well as the size of the market remained limited. As late as the early 1990s, many of the more successful PSC training firms still consisted of merely a dozen employees and trained perhaps no more than 3,000 military and police students per year.
"If you were making more than US$3 million a year doing tactical training, you were one of the bigger players," one private security firm director told ISN Security Watch.
Today, professional estimates of the size of this industry have ranged in excess of US$100 billion, and individual PSCs boast massive resources. For example, Military Professionals Resources, Inc (MPRI) - a premier supplier of doctrine based military training both within the US and abroad - has seen rapid and steady growth over the past decade. Between 1997 and 2005, MPRI grew from 400 employees and a business volume of US$48 million to over 3,000 employees worldwide and reported revenues exceeding US$2 billion.
With 100 trainers on staff, the PSC Blackwater Worldwide's training center in the US state of North Carolina - a massive 6,000 acre facility including 40 computerized shooting ranges, sophisticated shoothouses, parachute drop zones, a mock