When the U.S. Air Force showed only a tepid interest in unmanned aircraft, a small San Diego company, General Atomics, decided to build them on its own dime. So when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks hit and U.S. forces were suddenly sent to combat guerilla-like forces in the mountains of Afghanistan, the company's Hellfire-equipped Predators were not just a concept—they were in production. General Atomics's playbook may be one to emulate if shrinking U.S. defense budgets shift more ...

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