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Technology, War & Strategy Course

Course Offering: Technology, War, and Strategy

Upper-level undergraduate and graduate students who take this course, created by retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Kirchubel, PhD, and FORCES Founder and CLA's Associate Dean of Research Sorin Adam Matei, learn how technology impacts and influences elements of political, military, economic and cultural strategy. They also learn about the evolution of strategic thinking and its place in the world. The course includes presentations from national and international experts, offering students the chance to interact with those who are widely known in their fields. Contact FORCES staff for more information and details about upcoming course availability at

Barry Scott took over the course in Spring 2021, and among his numerous updates was the inclusion of an online iteration of the classic board game Diplomacy. When the Honors College asked FORCES to teach the course again in Fall 2021, Rob and Sorin made the course “all Diplomacy.” In addition to the standard lectures, readings, and guest speakers, students divided into national teams and played three simulations: Diplomacy and a Diplomacy-based variant on the Peloponnesian War (ancient Greece) developed by Rob, plus a South China Seas variant (contemporary global situation) developed by Sorin. Students did not just play games all semester, however. Prior to each sim, national teams researched and wrote a strategy memorandum that would guide their play, and afterward, they wrote an after action report analysis. At the end of the semester, each team gave a presentation to the class on lessons learned concerning strategy as well as the trajectory of their learning curves throughout the three simulations.


Q & A with Francesca McCallister, Class of 2020, talks about FORCES Initiative course benefits

Francesca McCallister came to Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts with a record of excellence and a vision. An Evans Scholar who received a full-tuition, merit-based scholarship sponsored by the Western Golf Association, she majored in pollical science and minored in global studies and human rights. She also earned a certificate in public policy, and she has set her sights on an impressive future.


“After graduation, I plan to pursue a career in global security and diplomatic relations,” McCallister said. “I want to make an impact and improve the quality of life for American citizens and citizens around the world, working towards a policy ensuring that liberty and justice is applied to many instead of few.”


During her final semester at Purdue, McCallister enrolled in FORCES’ Technology, War and Strategy course. Shortly before graduation, she shared her reaction to the course.


Q: What motivated you to take the class?

It was my experience with the Institute for Global Security and Defense Innovation (i-GSDI) and political science that compelled me to take this course myself. ...


Q: Briefly describe the course.

The course was divided into three modules. The first focused on principles of strategy, the second on technology-centric military strategy, and the third on technology-centric strategic thinking in the recent past and near future. ...


Q: Which of the modules did you gain most insights from, and why?

I found I gained the most insight from the second module on technology-centric military strategy. The speakers from this second module included Colonel Gail Yoshitani and Mr. Richard Samuels. ...


Q: What kind of impact has this course had on the way you think about technology and strategic thinking?

This course has taught me the importance of military strategy, decision making, and expert input. The discussions with experts throughout the semester have enriched the course work, showing it has real-world implications. ...


Q: Would you recommend this course to others?

I would recommend this course to any undergraduate student who is interested in learning more about national security and defense. ...


(Note: FORCES plans to offer this course again in Spring 2021 in a slightly modified form. For more information, contact


Simulating the Cuban Missile Crisis:

Interactive Pedagogy in the FORCES   Technology, War, and Strategy   Semina r

AUTHOR:  Zachary Goldsmith, PhD  
JUNE 2020


“Attacking American jets arriving in Cuba, three minutes.” Frantic requests for information coming from Moscow. Nervous and confusing responses from Washington, DC. Belligerent declarations in Havana. No, this was not American action taken surreptitiously over the last few years, despite the worsening relations with Cuba. Neither was it an episode from the real Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The event did occur, however, during the student simulation of this historical event in the Spring 2020 FORCES seminar, Technology, War, and Strategy. The FORCES Initiative, a component of the College of Liberal Arts, created the seminar for the Honors College. The course, supported by a stellar series of speakers from the Air War College, West Point, RAND Corp, and elsewhere, aims to rethink undergraduate education, as an interdisciplinary and experiential effort. As taught by FORCES, strategy is not a theoretical concept, but as a practice. The instructors were Dr. Robert Kirchubel and Dr. Sorin Adam Matei. Kirchubel holds a PhD in History, specifically military history, with a focus on the 20th century. He is the author of the Atlas of the Eastern Front and Atlas of the Blitzkrieg and is a former US Army LtCol (Armored Forces). Matei, who is also the Associate Dean for Research of the College of Liberal Arts and the director of the FORCES Initiative, is a multidisciplinary social scientist interested in strategy and technological choice. 
The core experiential learning opportunity of Technology, War, and Strategy consisted of simulating the Cuban Missile Crisis. The resounding practical lesson from this student-run wargame was that real-world leaders face acute pressures and confusion in times of crisis. During a particularly tense moment of this hour-long simulation, it appeared as though the US had indeed ordered planes against Cuba, charged with an as-yet undefined offensive mission, to join ships sent earlier to form a blockade. This information was in turn relayed to the Soviet team. Unsure of how to react to the challenge, the USSR could not decide on single course of action. It learned only later—to everyone's great relief—that the “intelligence” about the attack had been erroneous, a result of the confused American deliberations and uncertain chain of command. Illustrative for any student of foreign affairs, this incident clearly demonstrated for our students how difficult decisions in international politics are often made under the least advantageous circumstances (defined as incomplete information, severe time constraints, and stakes that could hardly be higher).  
Purdue alumni Dr John Fahey and collaborator Dr Matt McDonough developed the wargame while post-doc instructors at West Point. But how did the simulation run and how can it be used as a practical exercise in class? Assigned at the start as American or Soviet leaders in separate classrooms, students took on specific governmental and military roles with corresponding - though sometimes competing - objectives. After receiving a brief overview of the actual ’62 crisis and with the clock ticking, the students were left on their own to make decisions as if they were the historical actors. Each team had an outcome considered a “win,” as well as scenarios they would prefer and those they would merely accept.     
The US objectives ranged from merely removing missiles from Cuba to expelling the entire Soviet presence. Or—certainly a far grimmer possible outcome—the US team could accept annihilating major Soviet cities in a mutual nuclear exchange. Minutes passed as hours in this simulation, while ideas, plans and solutions developed by one team were relayed to the other team (with time delays). This mimicked the flow of real-world information through either national intelligence sources or news reports. Ambassadors engaged in shuttle diplomacy outside in the hall, and relayed the outcome of their meetings to their respective cabinets. Members of each team were often at odds with each other in desired outcomes, and best plans to achieve these ends. All options were entertained: The Soviet team mulled over firing missiles into West Germany, while the US team wondered whether another assault on Cuba (following the Bay of Pigs fiasco) could be successfully orchestrated. In the eleventh hour, with perhaps a minute to go before the deadline (the end of class!), both sides achieved a hastily reached accord: Soviet missiles out of Cuban with no preconditions - an outcome even more advantageous than that secured by Kennedy nearly six decades ago. 
The experience greatly enhanced student understanding of strategy as a negotiation of time against success, and means against ends. In the words of student Francesca McAllister, “The experiment allowed students to work together applying the strategic tools we had learned about in class. I feel that simulations always push students to find the purpose and reality of the lessons taught in class. Overall, this section stood out to me over the others due to the discussions and strategic thinking that was applied.” 
Supplementing student education in this way with real-world simulations allowed students to understand more fully the types of pressures and constraints in which political actors operate, including those at the intersection of technology, war, and strategy. Such an exercise perfectly illustrates the saying “if you tell me, I forget; if you teach me, I might understand; if you involve me, I will remember and will be able to apply the lessons learned.”