The military landscape is evolving faster than ever, forcing the U.S. government to rely more and more on private military contractors. These companies support a wide range of military operations including weapons provision, private security, transportation, and intelligence analysis. Their work frees up crucial military personnel to perform the tasks only they can do.
In response to budget cuts to the Department of Defence, new threats and technologies, and creeping privacy violations here and abroad, certain people have emerged as key players.
Below are nine people who shook up the industry in 2013:
Joe Allison, Founder and CEO of Solid Concepts
Allison’s Solid Concepts has successfully produced a .45-calibre handgun made of stainless steel using 3D printing. This news comes on the heel of the Obama administration promising federal agencies a $US200 million investment in developing “additive manufacturing,” or 3D printing.
The Department of Defence would like to have the technology on site to produce customisable parts that would otherwise be expensive to make or ship. Others have tried to meet those needs but have had problems fabricating pieces that can stand up to the heat and pressure of firing.
Solid Concepts has not only produced a functioning handgun but also obtained a Federal Firearms Licence to distribute unique gun parts in fewer than five days.
Christopher Bogdan, Lt. Gen. of the U.S. Air Force
Lt. Gen. Bogdan is credited with saving the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program — the Department of Defence’s development and acquisition of the next-generation strike aircraft weapon. It clocks in at more than $US390 billion, making it the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history.
As Program Executive Officer of a project that is billions over budget and years behind schedule, Bogdan made some dramatic moves this year by reorganising the office and making personnel changes. In February he came out swinging at commercial partners Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitley, accusing them of trying to “squeeze every nickel” out of the U.S. government and failing to see the long-term benefits of the project.
Christine Fox, Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Defence
In June, Fox vacated her position as director of the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment Program Evaluation office, where she shaped strategy at how to implement nearly $US1 trillion in cuts to projected defence spending over the next decade.
Now, as the recently appointed Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Defence, she’s implementing the plans she crafted. Fox, the highest ranking woman ever to serve in the DoD, will decide which private defence companies’ contracts with the government will stay intact.
She brought a dose of harsh reality to sequester talk in an an op-ed article for DefenseNews.com, writing, “[L]et’s drop the illusion that by efficiency nip and managerial tuck the US military can absorb cuts of this size and of this immediacy without significant consequences for America’s interests and influence in the world.”
Fox will play an integral role in developing the 2014 Quadrennial Defence Review, a legislatively mandated study of the DoD’s priorities that sets a long-term course to address today’s conflicts and tomorrow’s military threats.
Marillyn Hewson, President, CEO, and Chairman of Lockheed Martin
Marillyn Hewson, who became the company’s first female CEO in January, shepherded the Pentagon’s largest weapons supplier through the government shutdown. Lockheed Martin furloughed 2,400 employees but will wrap up 2013 with its stock up 53 per cent year over year.
The private contractor has been largely spared from deep federal budget cuts because of its top-priority F-35 program. It will produce a fleet of nearly 2,400 Lightning fighter jets to replace older models flown by the Navy, Air Force, and Army.
Alex Karp, Founder and CEO of Palantir
Karp is at the helm of an analytics company that’s quickly becoming the go-to for mining massive data sets in government and financial sectors. This month, Palantir closed a $US107 million round of funding that valued the company at $US9 billion.
Palantir’s software deploys faster, offers cleaner results, and often clocks in under $US1 million per installation, demolishing its rivals in business with the NSA, the FBI, and the CIA, an early investor. Its product has uncovered terrorist financing networks, identified trends in roadside bomb attacks, and was reportedly used in tracking down Osama bin Laden.
Kevin Mandia, Founder and CEO of Mandiant
Mandia’s computer security firm Mandiant blew the lid off the Chinese government-sponsored cyber attacks on U.S. companies. For a long time Beijing has been suspected of espionage costing global corporations billions of dollars, but evidence was sparse until Mandiant released its report.
It identified a unit of hackers behind a mass phishing scheme, who report all the way up to the Chinese equivalent of the Joint Chief of Staff. Mandiant pinpointed the location of the attackers to a building of the People’s Liberation Army.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX
SpaceX, Musk’s space exploration company, rocked the boat in private defence this year when it emerged as a potential threat to power players Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
It signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force in June that will allow it eventually to compete for launch contracts of the military’s most expensive and sensitive satellites. It will bid against United Launch Alliance, a spinoff of Boeing and Lockheed’s government launch divisions that has clinched 100 per cent of the military’s major satellite programs since the company formed in 2006. The startup has already signed two contracts with the U.S. Air Force to launch missions through 2015.
The DoD is likely keeping an eye on Tesla as well, as the Model S has positioned itself squarely at the top of the electric car field.
In order to support ground operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, logistics convoys regularly travel to supply several hundred outposts with gasoline. Former Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer tells Business Insider that the main delivery routes can be littered with IEDs, and casualties are caused just from convoys moving place to place.
Tesla technology could some day contribute to electrical vehicles in the military, making it easier to supply distant outposts. In the long-term, it could help to cut American dependence on the Middle East.
Erik Prince, Founder and former CEO of Blackwater USA
In the years since the collapse of Blackwater USA, Prince has reinvented himself to become a major player in a new field. The Navy SEAL-turned-entrepreneur is based in Abu Dhabi and pouring millions into setting up Frontier Resource Group.
The private-equity firm operates in more than a dozen African countries and focuses on energy, mining, agriculture, and logistics opportunities. He sought backing from China, betting on the country’s thirst for African commodities.
Erik Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google
Schmidt led Google’s call for greater transparency in the National Security Agency’s surveillance program. After leaked documents revealed that the NSA has been collecting Google and Yahoo user information as it travels between data centres, Schmidt publicly slammed Google, arguing that the risk of terrorism does not justify secret mass surveillance.
Google previously lambasted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which forbids companies to disclose how much information they’ve given to the government or how many requests they’ve received. It also lobbied Congress to reform the NSA and support the recent USA Freedom Act, which would force the agency to defend its bulk data collection.
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