Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va., market-analysis firm, estimates that nearly $100 billion will be spent globally on drones between now and 2019.
"Worldwide you have very limited adoption of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], but foreign militaries have seen the success in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they want them," said Phil Finnegan, Teal Group's director of corporate analysis. The rise of drones has been a small boon for Southern California, where the aerospace industry has contracted painfully in the past two decades. About 10,000 state residents are directly employed in the drone sector. And for national-security reasons, much of the supply chain is kept onshore, generating jobs among contractors and subcontractors.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which makes the Predator and the next-generation Reaper drone, is in Poway, north of San Diego. AeroVironment, which makes an array of backpackable minidrones, such as the Raven and the Wasp, is in Simi Valley.
Northrop Grumman is testing the X-47B, a carrier-based fighter drone, for the Navy in Palmdale. The RQ-170, the stealth drone manufactured by Lockheed Martin and used by the military and the CIA, is believed to have emerged from the company's classified facility, the Skunk Works, also in Palmdale, near Edwards Air Force Base.