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BUSINESS
September 11, 2010 | By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
The cars begin rolling through the security checkpoints before dawn. Here, in a sprawling complex amid the craggy rock outcroppings of north San Diego County, 3,300 workers are building a new generation of weapons central to the military's vision for modern warfare. This is where General Atomics Aeronautical Systems makes the Predator and Reaper drones, robotic planes that can thread the rugged mountains of Pakistan, capture video images of terrorist hideouts and launch 500-pound Hellfire missiles to blast them apart.
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BUSINESS
September 11, 2010 | By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
The aerospace industry is bracing for major consolidation among contractors, and Boeing Co. could lead the way in a colossal merger with Northrop Grumman Corp. in Century City that would create the world's largest defense contractor. The possibility of such a combination arose this week after a Boeing executive disclosed that the Chicago aerospace and defense contractor is actively looking at potential acquisition opportunities amid prospects of sharp cuts in defense spending. Neither company would comment.
WORLD
August 23, 2010 | By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
Iran unveiled an unmanned bomber jet Sunday that will probably fail to tip the region's strategic balance but suggests Tehran continues to invest in shoring up its conventional weapons capabilities. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking during annual Defense Industry Day ceremonies, described the Karrar drone as "a messenger of honor and human generosity" before also terming it a "messenger of death for the enemies of humanity. " The audience applauded and praised the prophet Muhammad and his descendants as a sheet covering the olive-green aircraft was removed.
WORLD
July 6, 2010 | By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times
The U.S. military often portrays its drone aircraft as high-tech marvels that can be operated seamlessly from thousands of miles away. But Pentagon accident reports reveal that the pilotless aircraft suffer from frequent system failures, computer glitches and human error. Design and system problems were never fully addressed in the haste to push the fragile plane into combat over Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks more than eight years ago. Air Force investigators continue to cite pilot mistakes, coordination snafus, software failures, outdated technology and inadequate flight manuals.
BUSINESS
July 2, 2010 | By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
Northrop Grumman Corp. has been awarded a $33-million Pentagon contract to transform its unmanned, long-range spy plane into a roving robotic aerial refueling tanker. The plane, dubbed the Global Hawk, is used for high-altitude reconnaissance missions over Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military. Northrop plans to retrofit the plane so it can carry 1,000 gallons of jet fuel in its fuselage and demonstrate it can autonomously refuel another Global Hawk in midair by next year. "This technology has the potential to be revolutionary," said Mark Gamache, director of Northrop's advanced concepts and technology division.
BUSINESS
May 27, 2010 | By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
An aircraft resembling a large bodyboard detached from a flying B-52 bomber and then shot across the Pacific on Wednesday at more than 3,500 mph, shattering aviation records and reigniting decades-long efforts to develop a vehicle that could travel faster than a speeding bullet. The unmanned X-51 WaveRider, powered by an air-breathing hypersonic engine that has virtually no moving parts, was launched midair off the coast near Point Mugu. It sped westward for 200 seconds before plunging into the ocean as planned.
BUSINESS
April 22, 2010 | W.J. Hennigan
A small robotic spacecraft that looks like a miniature version of the space shuttle was successfully launched Thursday from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The 29-foot-long spacecraft, dubbed the X-37, was sent up atop an Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. The unmanned space plane has been shrouded in secrecy. The Air Force, which has been developing it, hasn't said much, fueling speculation that it could be used as a weapon.
BUSINESS
April 21, 2010 | By William Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
It may seem like a harmless, miniature version of the space shuttle, but some industry analysts are wondering if the secretive robotic spacecraft set to launch Thursday from Cape Canaveral has a more sinister side. "Are we looking at a new space vehicle or an orbital bomber that's capable of attacking from space?" said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a website for military policy research. "At this point, it's hard to say." The U.S. Air Force, which has been developing the X-37 pilotless space plane, isn't saying much.
BUSINESS
March 16, 2010 | By W.J. Hennigan
Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., considered the father of the remotely controlled Predator drone that has redefined warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, retired Monday from the San Diego-area aerospace firm that he helped found and grow. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. said Cassidy, 77, retired as president of its Aircraft Systems Group, which builds unmanned aircraft, including the Predator -- currently the most widely deployed unmanned aerial vehicle in the U.S. arsenal. The company, which disclosed the retirement after an inquiry from a Times reporter, said Cassidy was unavailable for comment.
NATIONAL
February 2, 2010 | By Julian E. Barnes
U.S. Defense officials outlined plans to double production of unmanned aircraft, part of an expanded 2011 budget unveiled Monday that emphasizes the importance of international hot spots and natural disasters as well as large-scale warfare, as provided under a new strategy document. The budget, which will grow 7.1% to $708 billion in 2011, is in step with calls by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in recent years to focus on current U.S. wars, invest in needed technology and jettison expendable or costly equipment programs.
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