""""A Global Hawk robotic plane, hovering more than 11 miles above Afghanistan, can snap images of Taliban hide-outs so crystal clear that U.S. intelligence officials can make out the pickup trucks parked nearby — and how long they've been there.
Halfway around the globe in a underground laboratory in El Segundo, Raytheon Co. engineers who helped develop the cameras and sensors for the pilotless spy plane are now working on even more powerful devices that are revolutionizing the way the military gathers intelligence.
The new sensors enable flying drones to "listen in" on cellphone conversations and pinpoint the location of the caller on the ground. Some can even "smell" the air and sniff out chemical plumes emanating from a potential underground nuclear laboratory.""""
Peace: it's bad for bidness.
""""Reconnaissance is "now the centerpiece of our global war on terrorism," said David L. Rockwell, an electronics analyst with aerospace research firm the Teal Group Corp. "The military wants to have an unblinking eye over the war zone."
And that has meant a growing and potentially huge business for the defense industry at a time when the Pentagon is looking at cutting back on big-ticket purchases such as fighter jets and Navy ships.
The drone electronics industry now generates about $3 billion in revenue, but that's expected to double to $6 billion in the next eight years, Teal Group estimates.
The industry's projected growth has fueled a surge in mergers and acquisitions of companies that develop and make the parts for the sensor systems, many of them in Southern California.""""
"There has been an explosion in the reconnaissance market," said Jon B. Kutler, founder of Admiralty Partners, a Century City private investment firm that buys and sells small defense firms."It's one of the few remaining growth areas."
Kutler's company recently acquired Torrance-based Trident Space & Defense, which manufactures hard drives that enable drones to store high-resolution images.
Trident, which has about 70 employees, has seen its sales more than double to about $40 million over the last five years.
The demand for sensors is growing as the Pentagon steps up use of drones for intelligence gathering."""