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Part of a series examining the technology competition between security organizations and terrorist organizations, this report focuses on understanding how terrorist groups make technology choices and consequently how the United States can discourage their adoption of advanced conventional weapons. Five types of advanced conventional weapons are identified that could provide terrorists with a new and qualitatively different weapon capability: sniper rifles, squad-level weapons, antitank missiles, large limpet mines, and mortar systems. Two key methods of limiting the threat from these systems in the hands of terrorists are explored: raising awareness of the threat, and reducing the threat through procedural and technical use controls. Technical use controls offer the surest limitations on terrorist use, but are by far most practical to incorporate when the system is in its design phase. GPS-guided mortars are the most worrisome of the advanced conventional weapons, attractive to terrorists and difficult to mitigate with only awareness and procedural controls. Fortunately, these systems are still in their design phase. For this reason, taking steps now to control GPS-guided mortars is urgent. Two initial steps are needed to begin placing additional procedural and technical use controls on these precise, indirect fire weapons: begin diplomatic discussions with the key producer nations to raise awareness of potential terrorist use of these systems, and commission a detailed technical study of the technical modules and architecture needed to implement proposed technical controls. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can play a key role in both these steps by pushing to begin diplomatic discussions and by conducting a detailed study, perhaps with the National Security Agency, of the technical architecture for use controls. Additionally, DHS should become a permanent member of the interagency panels considering arms exports. The time to begin negotiating and developing meaningful controls on GPS-guided mortars is now, before the opportunity is lost.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, Office of Comparative Studies, under the auspices of the Homeland Security Program within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment (ISE), a division of the RAND Corporation.

This report is part of the RAND monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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