Author Biography

Dr. Gary A. Ackerman is the Director of the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). Prior to taking up his current position, he was Research and Special Projects Director at START and before that the Director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Research Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California. His research encompasses various areas relating to terrorism and counterterrorism, including terrorist threat assessment, radicalization, terrorist technologies and motivations for using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and the modeling and simulation of terrorist behavior. He is the co-editor of Jihadists and Weapons of Mass Destruction (CRC Press, 2009), author of several articles on CBRN terrorism and has testified on terrorist motivations for using nuclear weapons before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. He completed his PhD in War Studies at King’s College London, dealing with the impact of emerging technologies on terrorist decisions relating to weapons adoption.


Subject Area Keywords

Asymmetric warfare, Complex operations, Europe and EU, Nonstate actors, Science and technology & security, Terrorism / counterterrorism


The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) repeatedly showed itself to be one of the most inventive and adaptive of all the violent non-state actors who operated in the latter part of the twentieth century. Among its most innovative exploits was the PIRA’s successful development and fielding – spanning almost its entire operational lifetime – of improvised mortar systems. This chapter will trace the sustained development of mortars, including the underlying motivations for pursuing mortars as a complex engineering effort, the process by which the development took place and the underpinnings of its success. The discussion will show that the PIRA’s mortar development program was born out of tactical necessity but enabled by good organizational practices and the organization’s access to materials, expertise and places in which to leverage these.


This case study was excerpted and abridged from Gary Ackerman, More Bang for the Buck (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation: King’s College London, 2014). This work was supported by Sandia National Laboratories, Contract #1525332. Any opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations in this issue are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of Sandia National Laboratories or the U.S. Department of Energy.


Editor’s Note: This article forms part of a series of related case studies collected in this Special Issue and should be viewed in the context of the broader phenomenon of complex engineering by violent non-state actors. Readers are advised to consult the introductory and concluding papers for a full explanation and comparative analysis of the cases.

Recommended Citation

Ackerman, Gary A.. “The Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Development of Mortars.” Journal of Strategic Security 9, no. 1 (2016): 12-34.
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Journal of Strategic Security