In Memoriam: David E. Johnson

Photo of David Johnson
Principal Researcher
Washington Office


Ph.D. and M.A. in history, Duke University; M.S. in national resource strategy, Industrial College of the Armed Forces; M.M.A.S. in military art and science, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College; B.A. in history, Trinity University


David Johnson, a principal researcher at the RAND Corporation whose work focused on strategy, military doctrine, history, innovation, civil-military relations, and professional military education, has died.

From June 2012 to July 2014 Johnson established and led the Chief of Staff of the Army Strategic Studies Group for General Raymond Odierno. He was an adjunct scholar at the Modern War Institue at West Point. Before joining RAND, he was a vice president at Science Applications International Corporation. He joined SAIC after a 24-year Army career serving in the Infantry, Quartermaster, and Field Artillery branches in command and staff assignments in the United States, Korea, and Europe. He retired as a colonel in 1997. He received the National Defense University President's Strategic Vision Award; RAND President's, Gold (2), Silver, and Bronze awards; Ancient Order of St. Barbara; Noble Patron of Armor; Order of St. Maurice (Centurion) and the Legion of Merit. His work has been on the professional reading lists of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Commander, the Chief of Staff Royal Air Force (United Kingdom), the Royal Australian Air Force Chief of Staff, the British Army, and the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence.

Recent publications include: Shared Problems: The Lessons of AirLand Battle and the 31 Initiatives for Multi-Domain Battle, and The Challenges of the "Now" and Their Implications for the U.S. Army.

Johnson received his Ph.D. in history from Duke University.

Previous Positions

Colonel, U.S. Army

Recent Projects

  • Joint warfighting implications of lessons learned from recent conflicts
  • Modern urban combat operations
  • The evolving roles of ground power and air power

Selected Publications

Johnson, David E., Agnes Gereben Schaefer, Brenna Allen, Raphael S. Cohen, Gian Gentile, James Hoobler, Michael Schwille, Jerry M. Sollinger, and Sean M. Zeigler, The Battle for Baghdad: Institutionalizing Army Lessons for Urban Combat, RAND Corporation (RB-10067-A), 2019

David E. Johnson, Doing What You Know: The United States and 250 Years of Irregular War, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2017

Johnson, David E., Hard Fighting: Israel in Lebanon and Gaza, RAND Corporation (MG-1085-A/AF), 2011

Johnson, David E., M. Wade Markel, and Brian Shannon, The 2008 Battle of Sadr City: Reimagining Urban Combat, RAND Corporation (RR-160-A), 2013

Johnson, David E., Adam R. Grissom, and Olga Oliker, In the Middle of the Fight: An Assessment of Medium-Armored Forces in Past Military Operations, RAND Corporation (MG-709-A), 2008

David E. Johnson, Learning Large Lessons: The Evolving Roles of Ground Power and Air Power in the Post-Cold War Era, RAND Corporation (MG-405.1), 2007

David E. Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army 1917-1945, Cornell University Press, 1998

David E. Johnson, Modern U.S. Civil-Military Relations: Wielding the Terrible Swift Sword, McNair Paper No. 57, National Defense University Press, 1997

Honors & Awards

  • Legion of Merit, U.S. Army
  • President's Award, RAND Corporation
  • Gold Merit Award, RAND Corporation

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: Agence France-Presse; Al Jazeera America; Army Times; Associated Press; Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Aviation Week; Baltimore Sun; BBC World News Service; Boston Globe; CBS News; Breaking Defense; C-SPAN; Defense News; Defense Technology International; Foreign Policy;; Government Executive; Haaretz; Inside the Army; Inside Defense; Israel Air Force Magazine; Jane's Defence; The John Oakley Show;; National Defense Magazine; National Public Radio; North County Times; San Diego Union Tribune; Vice News; Wall Street Journal; Washington Post; Wired; WTOP/Federal News Radio; Yahoo! News

Commentary: Providence Journal; War on the Rocks


  • Military Strategy

    Is the Virtue in the Weapon or the Cause?

    The Biden administration's recent announcement of its intention to adhere to the provisions of the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel landmines has real consequences. This decision is the latest in the long controversy over the use of anti-personnel landmines and, more broadly, what means are moral in war.

    Aug 5, 2022


  • Military Strategy

    What Better Way to Use the Arsenal of Democracy?

    At what point can the United States and other countries no longer afford the massive transfer of weapons to the Ukrainians, lest they jeopardize the readiness of their own militaries? When does the arsenal of democracy shift to the arsenal for self? These are questions that are starting to be raised as the demand for weapons becomes clear in what is now a protracted war in Ukraine.

    Jun 28, 2022


  • Urban Warfare

    Urban Legend: Is Combat in Cities Really Inevitable?

    Future combat will take place in dense urban areas and likely in megacities. These are the new “truths” that are taking hold in the U.S. military. But before going all-in on optimizing for urban operations, the U.S. military should take a deep breath and think carefully about future operations within the context of the National Defense Strategy.

    May 7, 2019

    War on the Rocks

  • Military Strategy

    An Army Caught in the Middle Between Luddites, Luminaries, and the Occasional Looney

    The creation of the Army Futures Command is an important and necessary move for the U.S. Army. For the first time since the 1970s, the Army has a major command focused on preparing it for future war with a peer competitor.

    Dec 20, 2018

    War on the Rocks

  • Military Strategy

    Cluster Munitions and Rearming for Great Power Competition

    The United States might need Cluster munitions, anti-personnel landmines, and tactical nuclear weapons to deter or defeat aggression. If policymakers choose to lift bans on these munitions, the ensuing policy restrictions might be tailored to address where these capabilities are necessary.

    May 9, 2018

    War on the Rocks

  • Military Force Planning

    Reimagining and Modernizing U.S. Airborne Forces for the 21st Century

    Many of the challenges the U.S. will face in the coming years across the range of military operations could be deep inland and require rapid response. Airborne forcible entry — with reimagined and modernized airborne forces — would offer decisionmakers options in crises that they do not possess today.

    Apr 20, 2016

    War on the Rocks

  • United States Army

    Planning for the 'Army of the Future'

    What must the Army be ready to do as part of a joint force, now and in the future? What capacities and capabilities should the Army have in order to be ready? The NCFA comes up short in its answers to both of these questions.

    Feb 17, 2016

    The Hill

  • Operational Readiness

    Ground Combat

    The U.S. Army needs to pay attention to state-sponsored irregular forces, whose numbers are growing. Such groups represent the type of adversary U.S. ground forces are likely to face.

    Dec 23, 2015

    The Cipher Brief

  • Iraq

    Vietnam Teaches Us That Iraq Needs More Than U.S. Combat Advisers

    There are issues that must be examined, understood, and planned for if the United States does not wish to have U.S. advisers left to the cruelties of the Islamic State.

    Sep 14, 2015

    War on the Rocks

  • Military Strategy

    Means Matter: Competent Ground Forces and the Fight Against ISIL

    If Iraqi security forces are incapable of defeating ISIL in the cities where they have gone to ground, then the only reliable means available are U.S. ground combat forces. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have all the skills in joint combined arms warfare that the ISF lacks.

    Mar 19, 2015

    War on the Rocks

  • United States Army

    Failure to Learn: Reflections on a Career in the Post-Vietnam Army

    In the aftermath of a decade of war, the Army must have an objective, serious debate — one that it never engaged in after Vietnam — to understand its experiences, both good and bad.

    Jan 27, 2014

    War on the Rocks

  • Security Cooperation

    Iran's Counter-Strike

    Iran's headstrong attempt to join the world's nuclear-weapons club is setting the stage for a military confrontation that nobody wants, but may happen anyway, writes David E. Johnson.

    Feb 25, 2010

    Providence Journal and

  • Afghanistan

    Ends, Ways, and Means—the Debate We Still Need on Afghanistan

    When President Obama explained his decision to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to support General Stanley McChrystal's new counterinsurgency campaign, he left a key question unanswered: Will this be enough to achieve U.S. strategic ends in Afghanistan? writes David E. Johnson.

    Dec 9, 2009