CNA’s approach to research is a modern iteration of the Newtonian principle that complex, dynamic processes are best understood through direct observation of events and people.

That was the methodology CNA analysts first applied in the 1940s when they pioneered the field of operations research by helping the Navy address the German U-boat threat. Not content to study the problem from afar, this small group of MIT scientists insisted on deploying with Navy forces in order to observe operations and collect the data needed for meaningful analyses. Their groundbreaking work, and the anti-submarine warfare equations it produced, set a standard for operations research methods that CNA has maintained for more than 70 years.

Today, with more than 350 professionals at its headquarters and 45 researchers in the field, CNA still takes a real-world approach to its work. On-site analysts carefully observe all aspects of a process—people, decisions, actions, consequences—and then collaborate with a headquarters-based research team to assess data and arrive at findings.

CNA’s research model has proved valuable to an array of government decision makers. Its work, which in its early decades focused solely on defense-related matters, has grown to include investigation and analysis of a broad range of public-interest issues including education, homeland security, and air traffic management.

1942: Founded

When the U.S. entered World War II and German submarines began to patrol the East Coast and American shipping lanes in earnest, the Navy's immediate attention turned to countering this threat as part of the Battle of the Atlantic.  In April 1942 Capt. Wilder Baker, head of the Navy Antisubmarine Warfare Unit, enlisted MIT professor Philip Morse to lead an operations research team to help the Navy: the Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Research Group (ASWORG).

Although sending civilian experts to military commands was a still a delicate matter, in June 1942 ASWORG set a precedent – and established the Field Program which continues today – when it assigned an analyst to the Headquarters of the Gulf Sea Frontier in Miami, and soon thereafter assigned several analysts to the Eastern Sea Frontier in New York. ASWORG itself was assigned to the Headquarters of Commander in Chief, U.S Fleet, led by Adm. Ernest King who was also Chief of Naval Operations. A year later ASWORG joined the Tenth Fleet when the command was formed to consolidate America's antisubmarine warfare operations.

By the end of the war, ASWORG had about 80 scientists and had broadened its scope to include the study of virtually all forms of naval warfare. During most of the war about 40 percent of the group was assigned to various operating commands. These field representatives developed immediate practical answers to tactical and force allocation questions important to their commands. Concurrently, they fed back practical experience and understanding to the central Washington group, an approach still taken at CNA.

Among its many World War II contributions, ASWORG analysts helped:

  • Devise more effective escort screening plans
  • Determine the optimum size of convoys
  • Develop antisubmarine warfare (ASW) tactics, such as optimum patterns and altitudes for ASW patrol aircraft
  • Develop countermeasures to German acoustic torpedoes and snorkeling U-boats
  • Contribute to the use of airborne radar.

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1945-1949: Peacetime Operations

As the end of World War II neared, ASWORG was reassigned to the Commander in Chief’s Readiness Division and renamed, simply, the Operations Research Group (ORG) to reflect its work beyond antisubmarine warfare. Other divisions were also formed under the group, including Air ORG, Antiaircraft ORG (later renamed Special Defense ORG), Amphibious ORG, and the Operations Research Center.

In August 1945 Fleet Adm. Ernest King and Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal agreed to continue ORG in peacetime. Both King and Forrestal concluded that much of ORG's unique value came from its ability to provide an independent, scientific viewpoint and that the group's character would best be preserved by continuing its relationship with an academic institution. MIT was chosen as the contractor for the ORG's work and in November 1945 the group was renamed the Operations Evaluation Group (OEG). Dr. Jacinto Steinhardt, a member of the WWII group, became the group’s new director, overseeing its responsibilities to “conduct studies for the fleets…on recent operations, the performance of new equipment, tactical doctrine, and strategic alternatives.”

Through the remainder of the 1940’s OEG published numerous analytical and historical reports on key naval operations, as well as important works on the research methodology OEG analysts had developed, including Methods of Operations Research by Philip Morse, Search and Screening by Bernard Koopman, and Antisubmarine Warfare in World War II by Charles Sternhell and Alan Thorndike.

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1950s: Korea and the Cold War

During the Korean War, OEG analysts worked in the field collecting data, solving tactical problems, recommending improvements in procedures, and expanding its major efforts on specific tactical problems such as selection of weapons for naval air attacks on tactical targets, scheduling of close air support, analysis of air-to-air combat, naval gunfire in shore bombardment, blockade tactics, and interdiction of land transportation.

During the Korean War OEG analysts worked in the field collecting data, solving tactical problems, and recommending improvements in procedures, expanding its major efforts on such specific tactical problems as:  selection of weapons for naval air attacks on tactical targets, scheduling of close air support, analysis of air-to-air combat, Naval gunfire in shore bombardment, blockade tactics, and interdiction of land transportation.

In addition, correspondence between the field representatives and Washington, and discussions in Washington with representatives returning from the field, enabled the organization to adjust its research to be as useful as possible to the operating commands. By the end of the war, OEG had 60 research staff members.

After the war major technological advances, particularly in the fields of atomic energy and guided missiles, changed the nature of much of OEG’s activity. Issue areas were broadened to include the possible enemy use of nuclear weapons and the effect of U.S. policies and weapon system choices on the nature of wars the United States would have to be prepared to fight.

In 1955 OEG created the Naval Warfare Analysis Group (NavWAG) to help support the Chief of Naval Operations’ Long-Range Objectives Group in examining such strategic issues a the "missile gap." The group also made recommendations concerning the posture the United States should adopt in the coming decades to address issues of strategic balance and to formulate U.S. military needs on both a nuclear and conventional level.

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1960s: The Vietnam Era

By the 1960s, with advances in weapon technology and the increasing tempo of the Vietnam War causing a dramatic rise in defense costs, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ushered in a new philosophy of defense management that called for integrated systems analyses throughout the defense establishment to balance costs with effectiveness.

OEG’s activities increased significantly in the early 1960s. To stay abreast of advances in science, the Applied Science Division (ASD) was created. With the cost of weapon systems becoming a dominant factor in military decision-making, an Economics Division was established. Also, with an increase in the Marine Corps' requirements for operations research, the Marine Corps section of OEG was formed.

Because military decision-making was becoming more complex, the Navy had established – separate from OEG – the Navy Long-Range Studies Project in 1959. As this group became involved in the study of future Navy issues, the requirements for analytical support from civilian specialists became more evident. A contract was negotiated with the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) to provide such assistance. The name of the Long-Range Studies Project was changed to the Institute of Naval Studies (INS), which was located at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 1962, the Secretary of the Navy moved to consolidate the work of OEG and the Navy’s Institute for Naval Studies (INS), and the Franklin Institute was chosen to administer the contract for the new organization: the Center for Naval Analyses (comprised of OEG and INS divisions). In the years ahead OEG’s NavWAG group also became a distinct operating entity within the Center for Naval Analyses, and two other divisions were established: the Systems Evaluation Group and Marine Corps Operations Analysis Group.

Shortly after the Center for Naval Analyses was formed, its analysts helped the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) develop plans for the naval quarantine of Cuba and assessed the effectiveness of surveillance operations.

By mid-decade, as the Vietnam War escalated, the Center for Naval Analyses established the Southeast Asia Combat Analysis Division (SEACAD), raising the number of its field representatives conducting war-related analysis and increasing direct support to naval operating forces. Analysts studied such operations as interdiction in North Vietnam and infiltration rates in South Vietnam, as well as combat aircraft losses, strike warfare and carrier defense, surveillance, and naval gunfire support. A large database on war-related activities was also developed and maintained in the Center's Washington office.

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1970s: All-Volunteer Force and Critical Analyses

To maintain operational effectiveness in an era of reduced budgets, the Navy increased its emphasis on analysis – to develop tactics that overcame technical shortcomings of old systems and to determine how best to use new systems.

Early in 1970 the Center for Naval Analyses set up a Red-Side Operations Analysis section to analyze U.S.S.R. naval operations and assess Soviet capabilities. The Center also assumed technical management of the ASW Tactical Analysis Group, which later served as the core for the Tactical Development and Evaluation (TacD&E) program established in 1973 to develop and evaluate tactics to make the best use of the Navy's ships, planes, weapon systems, sensors, and other equipment. TacD&E evaluations were conducted both ashore, using computer simulations, and at sea to evaluate tactics in an operationally real setting, an approach that allowed each method to make up for the shortcomings of the other.

In 1973 the Gates Commission was formed to assess the impact of moving from a conscripted force to the all-volunteer force (AVF). By analyzing each objection to the AVF, Center analysts (who made up 40 percent of the commission’s staff) contributed to the commission's eventual unanimous support of the volunteer force concept.

The contributions of Center analysts were further recognized later in the decade when an evaluation of their work by the Director of Navy Program Planning concluded that the high quality of the Center's efforts, when coupled with its position of independence, provided the Department of the Navy with excellent and unbiased tools to aid in the decision-making process.

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1980s: Meeting Soviet Force

In response to the growth of Soviet military power during the 1970s, in the 1980s the Navy increased its number of ships and aircraft and placed more emphasis on a maritime strategy and on specific concepts of operations for employing the Fleet in a global war.

Organizational changes brought two new areas of work to the Center for Naval Analyses: the Advanced Technology Program and the Naval Warfare Program. At the end of the decade, the Center had also established the Strategic Policy Analysis Group to assess technological and political-military developments and their implications for conventional land nuclear naval missions and to assess options for future strategic-nuclear forces.

The Center's management structure was also revamped, with analysts assigned to research departments which were responsible for analyst training, evaluation, professional development, and project assignments.

In 1982, the Center for Naval Analyses began a major study of concepts of operations for employing the Atlantic Fleet in a global war – considering issues ranging from Soviet objectives and intentions in a war, to actions the Navy could take to counter Soviet strategy, to executable theater-level tactics. Much of the Center’s field work was also related to use of the Fleet in a global war.

Center for Naval Analyses field representatives assigned to fleet commanders-in-chief and to the numbered fleet commanders were involved in developing and testing new concepts, while those at subordinate commands helped develop the tactics needed to execute the concepts.

To emphasize the shift toward support of the operational forces, the Center established tactical analysis teams in Norfolk and San Diego to support Second Fleet and Third Fleet. These teams assisted Pacific Fleet and East Coast battle groups during their workup periods and worked with them on specific evolutions during their deployments. Similarly, the Marine Corps billets were realigned with a new billet established at Camp Pendleton and the Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic billet moved from Norfolk to Camp Lejeune to support Second Marine Expeditionary Force.

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1990s: CNA

In the early 1990s in order to carry out non-DOD work, the Center for Naval Analyses established CNA and in 1993 founded the Institute for Public Research (IPR). Through IPR, CNA analysts worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to evaluate alternative ways to reorganize the FAA and to assess its Advanced Automation System program.

Other early IPR initiatives included work with the Commission on National and Community Service to help assess and monitor national service demonstration projects it has funded and work with the AVAKS Center through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to help retrain former Russian military officers.

During Operations Desert Shield/Storm, Center for Naval Analyses field representatives deployed to naval commands in the Middle East, providing critical on-site support. After the war, the Center was designated the Navy's lead agency for Desert Shield/Storm data collection and analysis. Center analysts were also in Somalia for Operation Restore Hope to help establish a secure environment for humanitarian organizations to provide famine relief.

One of the Center's most important tasks for the 1990's was to help the Navy and Marine Corps meet a new national security strategy (that had shifted from a focus on global threats to regional challenges and opportunities) and transition to the 21st century, post-Cold War security environment. The Center for Naval Analyses began to emphasize areas of investigation that would be important for the Navy’s transition to the next millennium: the new security environment, littoral operations, communications, warfare area adjustments, training and education, investment alternatives, force structure and requirements, and economics and efficiencies. Across the entire research program, special emphasis was given to joint operations and the naval infrastructure.

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