The US military has launched a programme to create a squadron of unmanned drones that could carry out aerial missions for the country’s armed forces.

Called the Gremlins programme – named after the phrase first used by RAF pilots before and during the Second World War to describe mythical imps that would sabotage aircraft – the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) will conduct research and demos around drone technology.

[Read more: What you need to know about the new F-35 fighter jet]

Darpa tactical technology officer Scott Wierzbanowski said the aim of the project was to find ways to cut costs and increase flexibility in how the US military deployed aircraft for all types of missions.

“For decades, US military air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions,” he said.

(Darpa)
(Darpa)

“Adversaries’ abilities to detect and engage those aircraft from longer ranges have improved over time as well, however, driving up the costs for vehicle design, operation and replacement.

“An ability to send large numbers of small unmanned air systems (UASs) with co-ordinated, distributed capabilities could provide US forces with improved operational flexibility at much lower cost than is possible with today’s expensive, all-in-one platforms – especially if those unmanned systems could be retrieved for reuse while airborne.”

He added that the Gremlins programme would look to create not only an unmanned squad of drones, but reusable ones at that.

“The programme envisions launching groups of UASs from existing large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft – as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms – while those planes are out of range of adversary defences.

“When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.”

For now, no time frame has been revealed for the project, or the amount being spent on its development, but Darpa says it hopes to produce drones that can be used up to 20 times each.

[Read more: Dreadnought - Britain's next nuclear submarine]