The use of armed drones against al Qaeda and associated groups in the Afghan-Pakistan border region has increased exponentially during President Barack Obama's tenure -- and has also expanded in other theaters such as the Horn of Africa and Yemen. As al Qaeda and associated jihadist groups gravitate toward North Africa -- especially Mali and Libya -- French officials have said that it's possible drones will be sent to the region. Their role would be to assist a yet-to-be-deployed African force tasked with freeing northern Mali from the control of Islamist groups.
As drones have become indispensable to both the military and intelligence agencies (not to mention many other civilian applications), defense contractors have plowed money into research and development.
In the United States, San Diego is the hub of the industry. According to a study by the Institute for Policy Research in the National University System, drone production was worth $1.3 billion to the local economy last year, based on an analysis of Defense Department contracts. Production is forecast to double by the end of the decade -- so the prospect of another brief encounter between a UAV and someone who doesn't want it around becomes ever more likely.