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Drone industry a boost to Southland's aerospace industry

September 13, 2010 | 10:30 am

Defense analysts will tell you that robotic planes, or drones, are the most hotly sought-after weapon system in a generation.

The Pentagon has spent at least $20 billion on the technology since 2001.

Southern California, with its rich aerospace history and the skilled workforce that arose with it, is the center of the industry. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. reign as the two biggest drone builders, with factories and engineering shops scattered across the Southland.

Dozens of defense contractors — Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. among them — are now vying to get in on the action. They are building surveillance drones the size of insects that can fly through open windows, and others as big as jetliners that can skim the stratosphere.

The video above, shot by Don Bartletti, shows how the military uses the technology. There is also an interactive graphic and photo gallery.

An in-depth article on drones appeared Sunday on The Times' front page.

-- W.J. Hennigan