NSRI Intern Grace Farson, a mathematics major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), presented about her NSRI strategic deterrence internship experience and resulting virtual wargame at last week’s U.S. Strategic Command Academic Alliance Conference hosted by UNL.
In summer 2021 eight undergraduate students — four from the University of Nebraska System and four ROTC cadets from across the country — dove into NSRI’s limited nuclear conflict wargame, updating the content and transitioning it to an online format.
Watch! Summary video of NSRI 2021 strategic deterrence intern experience.
The novel wargame was developed in 2019 by Dr. Christopher Yeaw, NSRI associate executive director, and his team to challenge participants as they navigate a conflict in which low-yield and ultra-low-yield nuclear weapons are used between the U.S. and Russia after a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The utility of NSRI's wargame has increased because we’re seeing this conflict play out, and we’re seeing there is a potential for a nuclear escalation, especially with these ultra-low yield weapons,” Farson said. “Explaining the importance of this to students like myself is so important to garner excitement in the field and to get people to think about, ‘how do we go about deescalating a conflict,’ and ‘how do we respond if there is a nuclear employment, but the explosive effects are the same as a conventional weapon?’”
Prior to the NSRI internship, Farson said she and her peers didn’t understand the different yields of various nuclear weapons or the fact that existing conventional weapons held by both Russia and the U.S. have the same destructive potential as some ultra-low yield nuclear weapons.
“It was really enlightening for all of us to understand how these types of conflicts could escalate and why countries like Russia would want to use those types of low and ultra-low yield nuclear weapons,” she said.
The game was originally developed for face-to-face engagement among senior defense agency leaders, and that option remains. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, NSRI deemed a virtual option essential, so defense leaders could continue to use the wargame as an experiential learning tool. The virtual option also makes the game more accessible for collegiate-level students and others from across the country.
Reflecting on her NSRI experience, Farson said she has been able to navigate the current crisis with much more knowledge. She even provided a presentation to her sorority since so many of her classmates are trying to understand the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what to expect going forward.
“Our conventional wisdom was challenged, and our learning was enhanced by numerous guest speakers, the opportunity to brief professional audiences and learn from their feedback and the chance to attend professional development events,” Farson said when summarizing her NSRI internship experience. “All of these opportunities enhanced our knowledge of the nuclear environment as well as led many of us to continue our pursuit of careers in national security.”
If you are interested in playing NSRI’s Limited Nuclear Conflict Wargame, please inquire at nsri.nebraska.edu/LNCwargame.
About the National Strategic Research Institute
Through the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska leading scientists deliver innovative national security research, technology, product and strategy development, training and exercises, and subject matter expertise to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. One of only 14 DOD-designated University Affiliated Research Centers in the country, NSRI is sponsored by U.S. Strategic Command and works to ensure the United States’ safety and preparedness against increasingly sophisticated threats. Read about our mission.