Larry Lewis

Tel: (703) 824-2020

Larry Lewis, Ph.D.

Director, Center for Autonomy and AI

EXPERTISE: Counterterrorism, Defense Technology, Foreign Militaries, Foreign Policy, Information Systems, Operations Analysis, Readiness and Training, Strategy and Planning, Middle East, Autonomy, AI and Drones


RECENT PUBLICATIONS: Decade of War: Applying Past Lessons to the Counter-ISIS Campaign, Summary Report: U.S.-UK Integration in Helmand, Improving Lethal Action Learning and Adapting in U.S. Counterterrorism Operations (U), Drone Strikes in Pakistan: Reasons to Assess Civilian Casualties (U)


Larry Lewis is the Director of the Center for Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence at CNA. His areas of expertise include lethal autonomy, reducing civilian casualties, identifying lessons from current operations, security assistance, and counterterrorism.

Lewis spent a decade analyzing real world operations as the project lead and primary author for many of DOD's Joint Lessons Learned studies. For example, he was the lead analyst and co-author (with Dr. Sarah Sewall) for the Joint Civilian Casualty Study (JCCS) in support of GEN Petraeus, GEN McChrystal, and ADM Olson (SOCOM); GEN Petraeus described the study as "the first comprehensive assessment of the problem of civilian protection." His other areas of expertise include counterinsurgency and high value targeting in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Colombia, and elsewhere. In addition, he authored the 2012 "Lessons from a Decade of War" report for CJCS. He also served as senior advisor to the Department of State's Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and was on the U.S. delegation to the CCW regarding Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS).

Lewis has a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Rice University.


December 9, 2019

Larry Lewis writes, "Despite commitments made to the international community and in its own AI strategy, the Pentagon has done little to act on promises to address safety risks unique to the technology of AI or to use AI to enhance safety in conflict."

War on the Rocks: "AI Safety: Charting out the High Road"


June 18, 2019

Larry Lewis says, "In the US and the UK we have very formal processes [for airstrikes], this coalition is not using them ... And when you mess up, bad things happen."

The Guardian: "'The Saudis Couldn't Do It Without Us': The UK's True Role in Yemen's Deadly War"


June 4, 2019

Larry Lewis says, "We may think it's expedient to take the gloves off but if you look at history . . . if you take a heavy-handed approach, you actually can hurt yourself in the long term." [15:57]

Slate's The Gist: "Saving Civilians, and the Mission"


April 1, 2019

Larry Lewis says, "When I was there the US and the UK certainly weren't on the operations floor, not regularly, only by invitation and that was kind of by exception."

Channel 4 London: "Britain's Hidden War: Channel 4 Dispatches"


March 12, 2019

Larry Lewis writes, "With both the Defense Department and Congress actively working on the issue of civilian casualties, a moment of reflection can help the government to better meet a key intent of the EO: to systematize learning and improve U.S. efforts to protect civilians."

Just Security: "Reflecting on the Civilian Casualty Executive Order: What Was Lost and What Can Now Be Gained"


March 6, 2019

Larry Lewis says, "The consequences of that are seen in Mosul and Raqqa, where the risk to civilians grew and grew, and there were no adjustments made."

Washington Post: "Trump Administration Alters Obama-Era Bill on Civilian Casualties in U.S. Airstrikes"


February 12, 2019

Larry Lewis says, “It's coming out with a very strong stance saying there are virtuous uses of AI”

Axios: “The Pentagon's Alluring AI Pitch to Silicon Valley”


February 4, 2019

Larry Lewis provide his expert opinion on reducing civilian casualties.

Washington Post:  “After Bloody Insurgent Wars, Pentagon Launches Effort to Prevent Civilian Deaths”


December 31, 2018

Larry Lewis says, “The non-combatant causality value often called the NCV, that is kind of a cap on the acceptable number of civilian causalities.  That is done in addition to the legal considerations that are made during a strike. In late 2016 that number was increased , so as you say the willingness to take risks to civilians, that risk threshold was increased.”

PBS News Hour: “The U.S. Military Has a Number of Civilian Casualties That Is Deemed Acceptable. Has That Number Changed?”


November 30, 2018

Larry Lewis says, “Destroying 60 buildings in a month means that twice a day, international forces are conducting the riskiest kind of strikes for civilians: structures where there is uncertainty of who may be inside them.”

Just Security: “Uptick in U.S. Air Strikes on Buildings in Afghanistan Raises Questions”



November 6, 2018

Larry Lewis says, “What does human control mean? If it means that humans pull the trigger, that's not always going to have the best outcome because humans make mistakes. For the most humanitarian outcome, you want to leverage both human and machine strengths.”

American University Washington College of Law: “The Fusion of Drones and Artificial Intelligence”


September 20, 2018

Larry Lewis says, “The actions that [the State Department is] talking about in the memo are not the kinds of things that actually help reduce civilian casualties.”

PBS News Hour: “Yemen War’s Civilian Casualties Trigger Questions on Capitol Hill About U.S. Support Role”


September 18, 2018

Larry Lewis writes, “There are four specific actions listed in the memo: (1) use of a No Strike List (NSL), (2) a change to Rules of Engagement (ROE), (3) formation of the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT), and (4) the Saudi government’s commitment to paying for a course on the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and targeting practices.”

Just Security: “Grading the Pompeo Certification on Yemen War and Civilian Protection: Time for Serious Reconsideration”


August 31, 2018

Larry Lewis says, “We have not had more progress in the past few years because we have not sufficiently defined the problem. States and other groups are still talking past one another.”

CAAI Blog: “CNA Statement to UN Group of Government Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, August 29 2018”


August 13, 2018

Larry Lewis says, “It’s not enough for them to identify problems. You have to make changes to operations” that will avoid similar problems in the future.

The Washington Post: “U.S. General Urges Saudi Arabia to Investigate Airstrike That Killed Dozens of Children in Yemen”


August 11, 2018

Larry Lewis says, “There are two main mechanisms for civilian causalities. One is indeed collateral damage. There is a military engagement of what they consider to be a valid target, and then there are civilians who are inadvertently in the area. The other is misidentification, so a military force believes that the target is valid, however, it makes a mistake and inadvertently targets civilians.”

BBC World: “Yemen Air Strike”


June 29, 2018

Larry Lewis says, “Harnessing the strengths of industry and academia (is crucial) and that is explicitly called out, it’s not necessarily going to be easy, but including the discussion about ethics and AI safety (so prominently) is going to be an important piece of that.”

Defense & Aerospace Report: “CNA’s Bendett on Russia’s Hunter UAV, Uran-9 UGV, Submarine and UUV Innovation Outlook”


June 29, 2018

Larry Lewis writes, “Even though many civilians encounter the humanitarian tolls of war, there is no public conversation on how applying artificial intelligence to waging war could help ease its tragedies.”

Breaking Defense: “AI for Good in War; Beyond Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’”


May 22, 2018

Larry Lewis says, "When people think about AI and autonomy as it applies to war, I think it's helpful to see what's actually out there as opposed to what we might see in Hollywood."

Salem Radio Seattle: "Live From Seattle, Interview with Dr. Larry Lewis"


May 15, 2018

Larry Lewis writes, "It would be worthwhile to think more deeply about how to use AI to reduce the humanitarian tolls of warfare."

Just Security: "AI-4-Good in Warfare"


April 12, 2018

Larry Lewis says, "You can actually create better humanitarian outcomes with AI."

CNA: "CNA Expert Speaks to U.N. Representatives About Lethal Autonomous Weapons"


April 12, 2018

At the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), Dr. Larry Lewis warned that human intervention at the "trigger pull" will not eliminate the risks of autonomous weapons. Read more.


April 10, 2018

Larry Lewis says, "Rather than focusing on the human control in the final engagement decision, the U.N. should develop a comprehensive safety net woven from existing best practices."

CNA: "Building a Safety Net for Autonomous Weapons"


April 10, 2018

A new CNA report by Dr. Larry Lewis recommends a comprehensive approach on lethal autonomous weapons to limit civilian casualties. Read more.


March 22, 2018

Larry Lewis writes, "Many groups recommend steps for the U.S. military to bolster its own capabilities to detect civilian casualties post-strike or to work more closely with independent groups to better consider external information to complement its assessments."

Just Security: "Civilian Casualties: We Need Better Estimates—Not Just Better Numbers"


February 21, 2018

Larry Lewis says, "What we are doing in our new center is looking at how to prepare for the future of war and make things a little less scary."

WSVA: "Dr. Larry Lewis-Artificial Intelligence and Warmaking"


October 19, 2017

Larry Lewis writes "Throughout history, the ability to adapt technological advances to warfighting has led to fundamental changes in the character of war and the tools used in its conduct."

CNA: Insights for the Third Offset: Addressing Challenges of Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence in Military Operations


July 12, 2017

CNA analyst Larry Lewis, Ph.D. testified during a Parliamentary panel on “Civilian Casualties and the US Drone Programme: Lessons for the UK” at the Palace of Westminster, London, on July 12


July 10, 2017

CNA releases the eighth episode of CNA Talks, a new podcast on current affairs. CNA analysts David Knoll, Ph.D., Larry Lewis, Ph.D.,  and Zack Gold discuss the findings and implications of newly released CNA paper, Decade of War: Applying Past Lessons to the Counter-ISIS Campaign. Listen to this episode.


June 14, 2017

The New York Times quotes CNA analyst Larry Lewis, Ph.D. in “Saudi Arabia Tries to Ease Concerns Over Civilian Deaths in Yemen”


June 14, 2017

CNA publishes Decade of War: Applying Past Lessons to the Counter-ISIS Campaign by CNA analyst Larry Lewis, Ph.D.


June 8, 2017

CNA analyst Larry Lewis, Ph.D. spoke on a panel on “Understanding the Contours and the Systemic Challenges to Security Sector Reform” and facilitated the interactive session “Effective Change and Security Sector Reform” at the JUSTRAC Advanced Training Course


February 16, 2017

Popular Science quotes CNA analyst Larry Lewis, Ph.D. on Rethinking the Drone War in "What’s Next for the Drone War?"


February 1, 2017

Marine Corps University Press and CNA publish Rethinking the Drone War: National Security, Legitimacy, and Civilian Casualties in U.S. Counterterrorism Operations by CNA analysts Diane Vavrichek, Ph.D. and Larry Lewis, Ph.D.