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The Mahan Advanced Research Project

 “Seapower and the trade it enabled were the first commodities of national influence that were globalized. Today’s Navy and Joint strategic thinkers should be the wellspring for concepts and policies concerning space, cyber, proliferation, and transnational disruption. Let us put on Captain Mahan's glasses again.”

William Shepherd, CAPT USN (Rtd), USN SEAL, and Astronaut, 
Awarded Congressional Space Medal of Honor, 
Speaking July 4, 2014.

Friday, September 05, 2014


The Mahan Advanced Research Project (ARP) is the Naval War College Advanced Research Group that concentrates on escalation, strategic and conventional deterrence, and counter-proliferation, in the context of defense and national security strategy.

Mahan NWC students explore the use of US military and naval forces, and the developing geo-strategic, political and technological environments influencing their future employment. All elements of warfare are examined, including nuclear, conventional, space, cyberspace, and special operations.  The Mahan ARP contextualizes these challenges under the rubric of strategic threshold studies that seek to articulate tipping points along the conflict continuum.

The Mahan ARP Director supervises the research of the Mahan Scholars, a group of committed thinkers that are competitively selected each year to conduct applied research across the fields noted above. For the past 13 years, Mahan Scholars have provided a foundational underpinning of the CNOs enduring responsibility to ensure the Navy’s strategic forces continue to maintain the highest standards in their no-fail mission. Mahan produces critical thinkers who frequently go on to lead strategic missions for Naval and Joint Forces. For example, Commander US Submarine Forces, Admiral Mike Connor USN, is a distinguished graduate of the Mahan Scholars.  The Mahan ARP supports NWC’s missions to educate leaders, determine the future Navy and support forces in maintaining combat readiness.

ARP Focus

The program consists of 30 x 3 hour modules that complement the development of a 45-page strategic assessment. The elective and research program is a mix of classified and unclassified work that requires Mahan students to hold a TS/SCI. Examples of topics covered include inter alia, grand strategy, military strategy, the first and second nuclear ages, nuclear theorists, conventional deterrence, nuclear deterrence, psychology of deterrence, space, cyberspace, NC2, nuclear targeting and effects, and case studies to include the Cuban missile crisis, Iran from Tehran’s perspective, a hypothetical road to a future nuclear war, and a USSTRATCOM 8099 scenario.

The Mahan ARP supports vital United States Department of Defense initiatives arising from a series of reviews of the nuclear enterprise over the past decade. In December 2008 the Secretary of Defense Task Force on DoD Nuclear Weapons Management("Schlesinger Review") announced the following findings:

  • The Task Force found a distressing degree of inattention to the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence among many senior DoD military and civilian leaders.
  • A holistic view of nuclear deterrence is neither reflected in policy guidance nor in acquisition decisions made by OSD and the Services.
  • A significant shortfall exists in the DoD nuclear surety inspection process.
  • Mission proliferation and headquarters downsizing have taken a significant toll on the ability of USSTRATCOM to maintain sufficient focus on nuclear deterrence.
  • The Joint Staff is now a minimal contributor to the nuclear deterrence process.

SECDEF Hagel was quoted in early 2014, saying he remained “deeply concerned” about “the overall health and the professionalism and discipline of our strategic forces.” He observed, “we let our focus on the nuclear deterrence aspect of our national security drift a little". In January 2014 Secretary Hagel initiated  another nuclear review, the most recent in a long line responding to various problems in the management of the enterprise.


In 2014 the Mahan project will deepen its understanding of the new and complex challenges of the “Second Nuclear Age” where the certainties of mutually assured destruction rarely apply in global affairs. All of this comes at a time of growing strategic risk.

Recent events in Eastern Europe, South and East Asia are laden with strategic deterrence challenges, all of which show potential to rapidly escalate into crisis.

The 2014 Mahan Scholars are comprised of military and intelligence leaders from across the DoD and Interagency. The following list is suggestive of the skillsets and senior leadership experience resident in Mahan:

2 PhDs (Bio-mechanical Engineering, and Psychology);

A DVM (Dr. Veterinary Medicine);

Multiple SAASS and SAMS Grads;

5+ post major command O-6s including Brigade, Battalion, and Squadron Commanders

Army Cyber Command,

Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command,

ICBM Group Commander,

Lawrence Livermore Fellow,

B-52 (N) Group Commander,

DTRA Contingency Ops Chief,






The depth of the Ops-Intel bench would be the envy of any COCOM or other HQ. The talent the Mahan’s can bring to any strategic problem-set is likely unparalleled in the US Government.


The Mahan ARP will generate a community of interest (COI) across USN and USG organizations dedicated to reinvigorating the deterrence mission and generating greater understanding of the risks of the 'Second Nuclear Age'. The COI will provide an interface between the analysts and the Fleet, OPNAV, the Joint Staff, COCOMs, the IC and IA, to ensure that Mahan applied research projects deliver actionable strategic innovations to those that need it most. In return, COI members will have the opportunity to interact with the Mahans both in Newport and at their Headquarters.

To get involved in helping answer some of the toughest challenges that face the United States please contact the Director of the Mahan ARP at the following address.

Dr Adam Cobb
Research Professor
Director of the Mahan Advanced Applied Research Project
Warfare Analysis and Research Dept (MLH-357)
US Naval War College
686 Cushing Rd
Newport RI 02841
401-841-3067 (office)
703-945-9308 (cell)>Dr. Cobb Bio 

Report of the Secretary of Defense Task Force on DOD Nuclear Weapons Management, Vol II: Review of the DOD Nuclear Mission, Dec 2008>

Alexei Anishchuk, “Don't mess with nuclear Russia, Putin says”, Reuters, Aug 29, 2014