The US Department of Defense has released video footage of a test drill that shows F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets launching 103 drones over China Lake, California in October. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of dodging air defence systems are likely to be used for surveillance.

The Perdix drones have a wingspan of 12in, operate autonomously and share collective decision-making, self healing and adaptive formation flying. Although the US Defense Department's secretive Strategic Capabilities tends to keep mum on most of its programmes, it has not been shy of showing off the latest UAV.

"Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronised individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature," said William Roper, director of the Strategic Capabilities Office. "Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team," he said.

The drones have been originally designed by MIT students but were modified for military testing in 2013.

A similar test was conducted by the Chinese last year with a larger swarm of fixed-wing drones. According to Elizabeth Quintana, of the Royal United Services Institute, a military think tank, China has significant resources both in electronics and drone-manufacturing.

"It's going to be very interesting — it won't just be about who has the biggest swarm but also about who can out-manoeuvre who," she said.