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Student Theses

The masters’ thesis is the capstone element of the MS degree in Defense Analysis from NPS. The degree shows that our students have obtained mastery in their discipline. As such, in their thesis, students will embed their specific topic or research within the context of existing knowledge (usually shown in a literature review in the thesis) and then add value to that body of knowledge through their own thesis research. (See the DA Thesis Process Guide.)

Students take a two course sequence of research methodologies and research design that culminates in a written thesis proposal by the end of their third quarter of study. If the research plan involves any human interaction (surveys, interviews, experiments, etc) then the proposal must be evaluated by the Institutional Research Board (IRB) to ensure compliance with DoD guidance and federal law. The department's faculty use a locally produced checklist to help determine whether IRB review is warranted. 

We encourage our students to tackle questions or concerns that are of importance to the special operations community and/or contribute to a better understanding of the irregular warfare environment. The Joint Special Operations University compiles a list of proposed research topics on behalf of SOCOM and the components, which students can use as a starting point in choosing their research question. However, students are not prevented from looking elsewhere for relevant and timely topics. The NPS SOF Chair, an active duty SOCOM O-6, also compiles thesis topics directly from ASD/SOLIC, the TSOCs, and individual units. The SOF Chair is available to assist our students as required. While unclassified theses are encouraged, students can conduct classified research when warranted or requested by a sponsor. NPS has access to SIPR, JWICs, and JIANT. We are hoping to bring BICES on-line in the next year for use by our international students.

Students can also travel, if needed, to conduct their thesis research. The department is fortunate in that SOCOM and the CTFP Office provide additional funds to allow our students to do field research.

Several department theses over the years have had considerable impact not only the special operations community, but on DoD at large.  The following theses titles and subject areas represent a small sampling of the research undertaken since the program’s inception in 1992:

CDR Bill McRaven:  The Theory of Special Operations

CPT Marc Flicker/CPT Kirk Nilsson: An Interdiction Model of the Cocaine Trade  

LT James Papineau: Special Operations Forces’ Role in Counter-Proliferation

MAJ Ben Higginbotham: On Deceiving Terrorists

Mr Durga Mitra: Understanding Indian Insurgencies: Implications for  Counterinsurgency Operations in the Third World

Maj Kent Landreth/ Maj John Glass: Extending the Horizon:  Networking Unmanned Aircraft to Enable  Persistent Surveillance and Target Development

MAJ Bill Edmonds/ MAJ Pete Twedell: Statistically Supported Human-Targeting: Using Historical Data to Improve Human- Targeting Decisions

MAJ Tommy Stoner/ MAJ Pat Colloton/Maj Ben Maitre: An Adaptive Security Construct: Insurgency in Sudan

MAJ Stephen Schnell/CPT Richard Hagner/MAJ Robert Pawlak/MAJ Rafael Rodriguez: Information Operations in Afghanistan:  Expanding the COIN Toolkit

Please click on the links below for more recent theses that also represent the high quality work for which our students are recognized.  All theses can be found online at the Knox Library website.

Population Analysis: A Methodology for Understanding Populations in COIN Environments / Mark C. Burke, Eric C. Self

Making the Case: What Is the Problem with Targeted Killing? / Andrew W. Boyden, Phillip P. Menard VII, Robert Ramirez III.

The Nature of Insurgency in Afghanistan and the Regional Power Politics / Zahid Nawaz Mann.

Manhunting: A Methodology for Finding Persons of National Interest / Steven M. Marks, Thomas M. Meer, Matthew T. Nilson.

Effective and Efficient Training and Advising in Pakistan  / Jason A. Johnston, Stephen C. Taylor.

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