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Changes in technology and adversary behavior will invariably produce new threats that must be assessed by defense and homeland security planners, and a decision must be made about whether they merit changes in current defenses or the development of new defensive approaches. An example of such a novel threat is the use of cruise missiles or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by terrorist groups or other asymmetric actors to attack homeland targets. Individual threats cannot be assessed in isolation, however, since adversaries always have many options for staging attacks. To examine the threat of UAVs and cruise missiles, RAND utilized a “red analysis of alternatives” approach, wherein the benefits, costs, and risks of different options are considered from the point of view of a potential adversary. For several types of attacks, the suitability of cruise missiles and UAVs was compared against other options, such as vest bombs, car bombs, and mortars. This approach identifies the operational problems faced by a potential adversary to help the defense understand how the capabilities that different attack modes provide may overcome those problems.

Given the insights this analysis of alternatives produced into the circumstances under which UAVs and cruise missiles might be preferred by an attacker, RAND explored defensive options to address the threat. This analysis considered defensive options targeting the full range of adversary activities, including activities before, during, and after an attack, rather than a preferential focus on classical terminal-defense strategies. UAVs and cruise missiles represent a “niche threat” within a larger threat context; therefore, defenses were sought that provide common protection against both this and other asymmetric threats. The monograph concludes with a discussion of cross-cutting lessons about this threat and the assessment of novel threats in general.

This research was sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. It should be of interest to homeland security policymakers, military and defense planners, analysts examining the terrorist threat, technology and defense system designers, and individuals charged with protecting potential targets in the U.S. homeland from terrorist attack.

Develops approaches for assessing asymmetric attacks using cruise missiles or unmanned aerial vehicles, a novel potential threat to homeland targets, in the context of other options available to terrorist actors and for identifying the factors that might make these technologies attractive to adversaries. These approaches provide the basis for exploring defensive options.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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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