Our Research

CNA operates on the principle of conducting honest, accurate, usable research to inform the important work of public policy decision makers—a principle that is never compromised. At CNA we:

  • Maintain absolute objectivity. In our investigations, analyses, and findings, we test hypotheses, carefully guard against personal biases and preconceptions, challenge our own findings, and are uninfluenced by what a client would like to hear.
  • Apply imaginative, innovative techniques. We approach every problem with an open mind and go only where the facts lead us.
  • Gain a thorough understanding of issues. We analyze all relevant aspects of an issue and look for results that not only answer questions but inform decision making.
  • Are process driven and results oriented. We carefully maintain rigorous, ethical standards of research and analysis and work aggressively to complete projects on time and within budget.
  • Are open, direct, and clear. We keep clients informed about our procedures and progress – in language that is unambiguous and understandable.

CNA Case Studies: An Inside Look at Great Analysis

Hidden Dangers, Hidden Answers

In 2004, an ever-growing number of coalition forces were falling prey to a hidden danger in Iraq. Concealed behind guardrails and road signs, under piles of debris, even within animal carcasses, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had killed 145 coalition forces in just the first half of the year. Gen. John Abizaid wrote in a memo, “IEDs are my number one threat in Iraq. I want a full court press on IEDs.” Within months, CNA would join that effort with a major analytical push to find solutions in the data—solutions as deeply concealed as any camouflaged explosive. Learn more.


In August of 1990, the Iraqi Army amassed on the border of Saudi Arabia. Many believed that Saddam Hussein — who had just barreled through Kuwait — would overrun the Saudi Kingdom before the United States could assemble an adequate deterrent force. So when President George H. W. Bush gave the order to send in the Marines, speed mattered. Learn more.

A Deep Dive into Data

For the first several years of his career at CNA, Ronald Filadelfo helped the Navy find the most feared denizens of the deep at that time: Soviet submarines. Three decades later, the Navy still calls on Filadelfo for scientific analysis when it worries about what lurks below the surface. But Filadelfo no longer specializes in anti-submarine warfare. And he and the Navy aim to protect — not attack — the objects of his many studies: whales. Learn more.

Recent CNA Research

April 1, 2019

The United States must prepare to compete with Russia without a treaty that verifiably constrains intercontinental-range nuclear weapons. This coming challenge stems from three changes in US-Russian relations. First, the United States has officially transitioned from strategic partnership to strategic competition as the basis for its Russia policy. By acknowledging Russia's revisionist intentions, the 2018 National Defense Strategy codified an assessment that took root in the United States and many other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) states after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has garnered more support every year. This assessment is accompanied by growing appreciation that Russia's political-military strategy poses a full-spectrum foreign and defense policy challenge for the United States. "Russia is challenging US and NATO interests below the threshold of armed conflict, while simultaneously fielding high-end forces to make the barrier to entry for war extremely costly and dangerous for the United States," explains a former US senior defense official.1 In a major departure from the 1990s, 2000s, and part of the current decade, the United States is now developing a political-military strategy to counter Russia. Second, in another change from the past 25 years, Russia is in the final stages of its nuclear modernization program. It fields a modern force of intercontinental-range, commonly described as "strategic," nuclear forces, and is capable of increasing its deployed arsenal. The United States is also modernizing its nuclear forces, albeit on a different schedule. Both countries are expanding their strategic-military postures to include non-nuclear systems capable of achieving strategic effects. Strategic-military interactions between the United States and Russia in the next two decades will be markedly different than the previous two, with multiple acquisition, development, and deployment pathways available to both. Third, the nuclear arms control treaty framework the United States and Russia have built and sustained over decades is on the precipice. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will expire next decade. It will reach its 10-year duration in February 2021, though the United States and Russia have the option of extending it for up to 5 years. As of early 2019, the prospects for New START extension are uncertain. Regardless of when New START expires, there is a strong possibility that a follow-on treaty will not be forthcoming. Recognizing these changing conditions, the report explores risks, uncertainties, and US policy options for a world in which there is significant competition between Washington and Moscow, but no bilateral strategic nuclear arms control treaty.

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February 5, 2019

Over the past decade, China's presence in the Middle East and Indian Ocean has expanded significantly. While great attention has been paid to China's growing economic presence as part of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, in reality, China's activities in the region had been increasing well before the start of Xi Jinping's signature policy initiative. Moreover, this growth has occurred across a wide range of domains, including military, diplomatic, economic, and even informational. How is China's presence in the Middle East and Western Indian Ocean evolving, and what does it mean for the United States and its equities in the region? This study examines China's growing presence in 23 states throughout the Middle East, East Africa, and Western Indian Ocean. It analyzes the drivers of China's growing presence in this region, as well as China's various diplomatic, informational, military, and economic domains. By doing so, this study seeks to move the discussion of China's growing global activities beyond discussions of Belt and Road, provide a more comprehensive understanding of how China's presence in the Middle East and Western Indian Ocean region is evolving, and improve our understanding of what these changes mean for the U.S. Navy and U.S. national security interests more broadly.

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February 4, 2019

A review of 30 years of analyses identifies military organizational "pathologies" that result in inefficiency, dysfunction and dissolution.

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November 16, 2018

In this annotated briefing, we examine the relationship between colocation and reenlistment in the Marine Corps. This analysis is part of a larger CNA project titled "The Effects of Personnel Policy Changes on Budgets and Manpower Inventories" sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Financial Management and Comptroller) (ASN(FM&C)).

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November 16, 2018

This document provides the technical background for the analysis presented in the CNA annotated briefing, The Relationship Between Colocation and Reenlistment in the Marine Corps (Vol. 1). We describe our data-cleaning procedures, including the observations that were excluded from our analysis. We describe how we created the reenlistment and colocation/marital status variables. We outline our choice of model and estimation technique and identify the control variables included in our model. We present the summary statistics of all variables included in our estimates as well as our estimation results. The annotated briefing contains the summary results and provides conclusions and recommendations for our sponsor, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Financial Management and Comptroller (ASN(FM&C)).

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November 16, 2018

Despite increases in the female share of Navy accessions and in women's entry qualifications over the last several decades, growth in female representation in the inventory has not kept pace. We examine one specific driver of the female share of the inventory: differential losses between bootcamp and reaching the fleet by gender. We find that the issue of higher female loss rates is not a general one. Rather, it is concentrated in highly technical ratings, such as the Advanced Electronics and Computer Field, Nuclear Field, and some Cryptologic Technician specialties. Evidence from loss codes and reenlistment recommendation codes suggests that health (physical and mental) and family issues—not behavioral problems—may be behind these higher female losses. Yet, the timing of these health- and family-related losses is puzzling given that these Sailors successfully completed bootcamp. We conclude with a set of recommendations that, if adopted, could provide the Navy with a more detailed understanding of why there is a sizable gender gap in attrition rates in these highly technical ratings.

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October 26, 2018

In this CNA occasional paper, Russian military journalists Konstantin Bogdanov and Ilya Kramnik look at the development of the Russian Navy in the context of the ongoing modernization of the Russian armed forces by studying the causes, contradictions, and consequences that affect the navy and the fulfillment of its mission. This report examines the status, mission set, and development strategy of the Russian Navy by showing the continuity that links modern concepts and current constraints to the views and issues of the late Soviet era. The paper analyzes naval modernization in Russia over the past 30 years and examines key obstacles that have repeatedly kept the navy from implementing its ambitious renewal strategies. The report also provides a plausible and realistic mission set that the Russian Navy could fulfill under its current development guidelines.

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October 3, 2018

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season demonstrated that when extreme events impact large, densely concentrated populations, survival is dependent on the ability to quickly reestablish for critical lifeline supply chains such as fuel, water, and food. The more extreme the event, the more dense the population, and the more distant the location from sources of supply - the greater the dependence on the preexisting network from human survival. This report consists primarily of case studies. These are evidence-based stories that can advance our understanding of how complex adaptive systems of humans, infrastructure, information, and the natural world interact. There are positive cases where informed understanding of these interactions led to creative and effective interventions. But there are also examples from 2017 where misunderstanding pushed the entire system closer to catastrophe.

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August 29, 2018

In this CNA Occasional Paper, Russian East Asia expert Vasily Kashin examines the current state of Russian-Chinese defense and security cooperation, Russia's approach to developing it, and the possible outcomes of a further Russia-China rapprochement. He highlights the historical antecedents to the unprecedently long period of close ties between the two countries, focusing on the mutual advantages derived by both countries from defense industrial cooperation. The paper describes the gradually depending nature of bilateral military cooperation across a number of domains, including arms sales and joint exercises. The paper also addresses Russia's evolving views on China's increasing global role and the potential for an even closer Russia-China strategic alliance in the future, concluding that although the two countries are not ready for Western-style cooperation in defense technology, they are gradually moving toward a security partnership characterized by greater integration and interdependence.

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August 24, 2018

This report examines commonly held concerns about AI and autonomy in war, as reported in the media or voiced in international venues. We find that the overall premises for these concerns are either out of step with the current state of the technology, or they do not consider the way military systems are actually used (which is as part of a larger process for delivering the use of force). These concerns are not spurious—they can lead to much-needed debates and discussions regarding ethical issues of this emerging technology. However, the real risk in a military context (expressed in operational outcomes such as civilian casualties and fratricide) is low from these common concerns.

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August 16, 2018

In this CNA Occasional Paper, noted Russian military journalist Alexei Nikolsky analyzes the macroeconomic conditions and budgetary constraints that affect Russia's military expenditures. The paper contains data on the main programs that attempt to overcome the current budgetary constraints for financing the State Armaments Program (SAP). It assesses the rationality of SAP priorities and highlights the financial and non-financial constraints that hamper its implementation. The report highlights examples of successful and unsuccessful procurement programs and discusses the reasons for these successes and failures. The report also discusses the importance of export programs for domestic procurement, the involvement of the private sector and academic institutions in critically important R&D programs, the impact of Western sanctions on the implementation of the SAP and the extent to which industrial programs have succeeded in counteracting these sanctions.

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August 14, 2018

The Chief of Navy Chaplains asked for analytical support to help the Chaplain Corps (CHC) refine its approaches to manpower and personnel management. Based on input from CHC subject matter experts and data analysis, we found that the CHC currently lacks: (1) institutionalized, documented processes for supporting and providing CHC input to manpower management decisions; (2) consistent staffing standards; and (3) adequate emphasis on manpower management in training and development. To address these deficiencies, we developed community-specific metrics to support the assessment of risks associated with proposed billet cuts or realignments. These metrics are intended to be applied to defined geographic areas called cooperative ministry vicinities and to capture the impact of taking into account junior and senior chaplains' roles, the mandate to serve families, and personnel deployment patterns. We also recommended changes to CHC training and development to support the appropriate use of these metrics.

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June 21, 2018

In this CNA Occasional Paper, Anton Lavrov, a noted Russian expert on military air operations, examines the successes and failures of Russia's air operation in Syria. He identifies the key structural changes and capability upgrades that made the operation possible. The operation allowed the Russian military to test new equipment and to rotate personnel through the theater of operations in order to gain battle experience. As it continued, the force became more effective, as its leaders learned how to operate in a battle environment for the first time in almost 30 years. The Russian Aerospace Forces' actions in the conflict increased the combat effectiveness of Russia's small contingent of forces in Syria and allowed government forces to attain success on the ground. The conduct of the operation can be used as a means of understanding the capabilities and tactics that the force may be expected to use in future operations.

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April 30, 2018

On March 13, 2018, CNA convened Innovative Approaches to Addressing Violent Crime: Technology, Intelligence, and Analytics—its tenth Executive Session on Policing. A renewed focus on violent crime has brought to light the many innovative approaches that law enforcement agencies across the nation are using to address the problem. In response to the recent uptick in violent crime rates in some cities, CNA organized this Executive Session to review how technology, intelligence, and analytics are being used to help fight violent crime. The Executive Session also provided examples of technological and analytical approaches currently in use and discussed how these promising practices can address violent crime.

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April 27, 2018

In this study, CNA uses a dynamic modeling approach to analyze the retention impacts of the recent change in the military retirement system. Our focus is on a lump-sum Continuation Pay that sailors receive in the middle of their careers. This Continuation Pay is designed to be able to offset the retention decline that results from some of the other retirement changes, and we find that it can do so. We also discuss some of the ways in which Continuation Pay is likely to interact with other Navy force-shaping policies.

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April 17, 2018

The term meme was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins to explore the ways in which ideas spread between people. With the introduction of the internet, the term has evolved to refer to culturally resonant material—a funny picture, an amusing video, a rallying hashtag—spread online, primarily via social media. This CNA self-initiated exploratory study examines memes and the role that memetic engagement can play in U.S. government (USG) influence campaigns. We define meme as "a culturally resonant item easily shared or spread online," and develop an epidemiological model of inoculate / infect / treat to classify and analyze ways in which memes have been effectively used in the online information environment. Further, drawing from our discussions with subject matter experts, we make preliminary observations and identify areas for future research on the ways that memes and memetic engagement may be used as part of USG influence campaigns.

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March 26, 2018

U.S. Navy planners should assume that the PLA Navy's presence in the western Indian Ocean will grow, and that new bases and places will be organized to support its expanded presence. U.S. authorities can no longer assume unencumbered freedom of action when electing to posture U.S. naval forces offshore of the Horn of Africa and other East African hotspots. If China's interests are involved and differ from Washington's, the Chinese could dispatch their own naval forces to the water offshore of the country in question. The U.S. Navy faced similar circumstances between 1968 and 1991, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed for friends, political influence, maritime access, and bases in the western Indian Ocean region. This paper briefly discusses this period in order to provide some historical context for what might occur in the future. As Mark Twain purportedly quipped, "History does not repeat, but it often rhymes."

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March 19, 2018

This report examines the issue of human control with regard to lethal autonomy, an issue of significant interest in United Nations discussions in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) forum. We analyze this issue in light of lessons and best practices from recent U.S. operations. Based on this analysis, we make the case for a wider framework for the application of human control over the use of force. This report recommends that CCW discussions currently focusing on process considerations, such as human control, should instead focus on outcome—namely, mitigation of inadvertent engagements. This allows consideration of a more complete set of benefits and risks of lethal autonomy and better management of risks. The report also describes best practices that can collectively serve as a safety net for the use of lethal autonomous weapons. It concludes with concrete recommendations for how the international community can more effectively address the risk of inadvertent engagements from lethal autonomy.

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March 7, 2018

On January 18, 2018, CNA convened a roundtable to discuss France's strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. Nilanthi Samaranayake, Director of CNA's Indian Ocean and South Asia Security Program, framed the discussion by noting the expanding role of extraregional actors operating in the Indian Ocean, including Japan, China, and France. The United States, Japan, India, and Australia have revamped their "Quad" discussions over the past year. However, Ms. Samaranayake noted, France has a range of territorial, economic, and security interests in the Indian Ocean, and the roundtable offered an opportunity to examine those interests and potential opportunities to deepen U.S.-French cooperation in the region.

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February 26, 2018

A key goal of the Navy's Digital Warfare Office (DWO) is to use the emerging field of big data analytics to tackle numerous challenges facing the Navy. DWO asked CNA to examine the issue of Super Hornet (F/A-18E/F strike fighter) readiness and recommend data-driven solutions that leverage underutilized sensor data. CNA proposed a pilot program that integrated sensor data across maintenance levels to expedite repairs of aviation parts. The five-month pilot program began on July 10, 2017, at the Fleet Readiness Center at Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and was implemented on APG-65 and APG-73 radars. We assessed the pilot program through several metrics and found that, during the program, repair time was significantly decreased and repair efficiency increased. Our findings suggest that sensor data integration across maintenance levels may considerably improve F/A-18 readiness.

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February 1, 2018

In honor of CNA's 75th Anniversary, we hosted a series of "Spotlight" seminars, presentations focused on key moments from CNA's history recalled by those who have lived it. One such seminar focused on an analysis of Soviet naval strategy through open-source techniques. Bradley Dismukes was intimately involved in this work from the 1970s through the 1980s. This report is his retelling of these events as presented to an audience of CNAers and guests on November 7, 2017.

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January 29, 2018

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has used media as an important instrument and lever of influence. The role of media in promoting Russian foreign policy and exerting the influence of President Vladimir Putin has become increasingly visible since the conflict Ukraine and other domestic and international confrontations began. CNA has undertaken an effort to map the Russian media environment and examine Russian decision-making as it relates to the media. This report provides an overview of the role that the media plays in Russian foreign policy. Specifically, we examine Russia's media environment, Russia's decision-making related to media and messaging, including the drivers and boundaries of that decision-making. We evaluate the role of Vladimir Putin and his inner circle, and finally, we examine the role that Russia's media and messaging plays in external influence. In addition, we highlight that while media is a key instrument of influence, culture, politics, and business are also important in broader Russian influence efforts abroad. Furthermore, this report outlines the way that decision-making and messaging is carried out by Vladimir Putin and his closest advisors through a series of scenarios that range from crisis to steady state. Finally, we provide overarching takeaways for policy makers and the international community to consider in understanding Russia's media environment and Russian decision-making in the media.

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January 22, 2018

In this study, we evaluate the feasibility of increasing the number of graduates from the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (ChalleNGe) who could be employable in one of the four military services. Because of the Department of Defense's (DOD's) and the services' quality goals, this requires that a significant portion of ChalleNGe graduates have high school diplomas and score in the upper 50th percentiles on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). Our methodology is three pronged: (1) we interviewed program directors, (2) we developed a test linking that allows us to predict AFQT scores based on ChalleNGe cadets' scores on the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE, a registered trademark of Data Recognition Corporation), and (3) we analyzed the test scores and attrition behavior of those ChalleNGe graduates who joined the services. We ultimately determine that increasing DOD employability would require changes to the ChalleNGe program; the program directors would have to carefully consider whether such changes align with the program's philosophy and mission.

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