Dozens of ADF pilots are in the United Kingdom on a secretive mission to remotely operate British armed drones.

Australia's Department of Defence has for the first time confirmed 32 ADF personnel are currently embedded in “unmanned aerial system units” in the UK. Reports say Australian RAAF pilots in the UK have flown drones in deadly missions over Syria and Iraq. 

The RAAF pilots were brought in to help the British RAF fill a workforce shortage linked to the psychological trauma of operating deadly unmanned aircraft.

The deployment was also expected to provide good training for Australian pilots in preparation for the introduction of the MQ-9B armed drone in Australia’s SkyGuardian program. However, this $1.3 billion project was dumped ahead of the most recent federal budget.

The future of the arrangement with the UK is now unclear too.

Labor says it would consider reinstating the program to acquire the American-made armed drones if it wins the federal election.