India to Participate in 17-Nation ‘Pitch Black’ Exercise in Australia

Indian Air Force

New Delhi: India will participate in the multilateral exercise ‘Pitch Black’ that’s scheduled to take place from August 19 to September 6 in Australia. India’s participation in the exercise has been confirmed by the Australian government.

The mega air combat exercise that generally takes place in Northern Australia’s RAAF bases – Darwin and Tindal will witness participation of around 100 aircraft and 2,500 military personnel from 17 countries. The participants, including Quad partner countries, this year are Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, UAE, the UK and the US.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) considers “Pitch Black” as its “capstone” international engagement activity with the air forces of strategic partners and allies.

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With a four-year hiatus since the last edition of Pitch Black (PBK22) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s exercise will see a return of the combined force to Australian skies, enhancing interoperability and strengthening relationships, the Australian Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

Group Captain Peter Wood, PBK22 Director Engagement said he is pleased to see the return of Pitch Black after the extended break.

“International participation in Exercise Pitch Black, from within the Indo-Pacific region and further abroad, provides all nations’ personnel with experience in working with aircraft, systems and work practices, in northern Australia’s unique environment, that would otherwise be unfamiliar,” Group Captain Wood said.

“Exercising with our international partners in combined air combat operations is pivotal to ensuring Air Force remains ready to respond whenever the Australian government requires,” he added.

“We are very much looking forward to working with our international partners once again for Exercise Pitch Black,” Group Captain Wood said. “We’ll have nations operating out of RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal primarily, supported by RAAF Base Amberley,” he said.

The aim of this exercise is to practice Offensive Counter Air (OCA) and Defensive Counter Air (DCA) combat. The exercise takes place in a simulated war environment. Traditionally, Exercise Pitch Black is conducted in two teams, ‘red team’ and ‘blue team’ which are based on separate locations, with combat taking place between the two teams. The first Pitch Black exercise took place on June 15-16, 1981 between the RAAF units.

The defence and security ties between India and Australia have been on an upswing in the last few years. In June 2020, the two countries elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed a landmark deal for reciprocal access to military bases for logistics support.

The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) allows the militaries of the two countries to use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies, besides facilitating scaling up of overall defence cooperation.

In 2018, the Indian Air Force (IAF) for the first time had deployed fighter aircraft for the exercise. It had then stated that the exercise would “provide a unique opportunity for exchange of knowledge and experience with these nations in a dynamic warfare environment”. The then contingent, consisting of 145 personnel, four Su-30MKI fighters, one C-130 and one C-17 transport aircraft, went to Australia via Indonesia and during the transit had constructive engagements with the Indonesian and Malaysian Air Forces as well.