Australia’s premier international military Exercise Pitch Black is set to take place in August and September 2022 with the RAAF announcing participating aircraft and nations at this year’s edition. This year marks the 20th instalment of the exercise with the inaugural exercise held at RAAF Base Williamtown on the 15th and 16th of June 1981. Since then the exercise can been considerably unsized and relocated with the first multinational edition run in April and May 1983, with the Royal Australian Air Force and United States Air Force out of RAAF Base Darwin. Up to 100 aircraft and 2,500 personnel are expected to travel Down Under for three weeks of simulated aerial warfare in a modern battle-space environment later this year. This will be the first exercise in a number of years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the 2020 iteration.
As the host nation, Australia will see a significant presence at Exercise Pitch Black with seven squadrons participating, spread out across three bases in the Northern Territory and Queensland. A notable exception from this year’s exercise is the presence of the F/A-18F Super Hornet operated by No. 1 Squadron.
RAAF Base Darwin
- E/A-18G Growler — No. 6 Squadron
- F-35A Lightning II
- KC-30A MRTT — No. 33 Squadron
RAAF Base Tindal
- E-7A Wedgetail — No. 2 Squadron
- F-35A Lightning II
- Hawk 127 — No. 76 Squadron
- Learjet 35A — Raytheon Australia
RAAF Base Amberley
- KC-30A MRTT — No. 33 Squadron
This year marks the first time that the F/A-18A/B has not participated in Exercise Pitch Black with No. 75 Squadron retiring their Classic Hornets in December last year. You can read more about the Classic Hornet in their twilight years here.
The European nation will return for the second time in a row with their indigenous Dassault Rafale multirole fighters alongside a single CASA CN-235 from Escadron de Transport 52 (a part of the New Caledonian Armed Forces). They will be supported by an A330 MRTT based out of RAAF Base Amberley.
Making their maiden appearance at Exercise Pitch Black will be the German Air Force with their first deployment to the rejoin. Six Eurofighters will be based at RAAF Base Darwin with support provided by their fleet of A330 MRTT and A400M transport aircraft.
Returning for their second exercise in a row, India will be bringing their Su-30MKI following a successful deployment to Australia in 2018.
Neighbouring nation Indonesia will send their F-16 Fighting Falcons to RAAF Base Darwin, with 34 aircraft forming the backbone of their fighter fleet alongside a smaller number of Russian made Su-27 and Su-30 Flankers.
This year will be a significant milestone in the exercise’s history as Japan participate for the first time ever. The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force will deploy their Mitsubishi F-2A/B Viper Zero multirole fighters. These aircraft will be coming from one of two bases with operational F-2 squadrons; JASDF Hyakuri (3 Hikotai) or JASDF Tsuiki (6 Hikotai and 8 Hikotai). This exercise follows on from Exercise Bushido Guardian and Exercise Talisman Sabre both held in 2019 as Australia and Japan strengthen their ties with one another.
Joining the likes of Germany and Japan, the Republic of Korea Air Force will be participating for the first time with their A330 MRTT based out of RAAF Base Amberley. It is also expected up to six KF-16 Fighting Falcons will join the impressive lineup of foreign militaries in the Northern Territory following announcements from Korean news agencies.
A regular attendee since 1990, the Republic of Singapore Air Force will be sending over their F-15SG Strike Eagles and F-16C/D Fighting Falcons. The RSAF operates a fleet of 46 F-15SGs out of Paya Lebar and Mountain Home AFB (United States) with an additional 60 F-16C/Ds similarly based out of Singapore and the United States. It is expected they will be supported by a mix of C-130 Hercules and A330 MRTTs before and after the exercise with at least one MRTT to be based at Darwin for the duration of the exercise. The RSAF are frequent visitors to Australia with numerous exercises held each year alongside two permanent training detachments in Queensland and Western Australia.
Joining the extensive list of MRTT operators, the Royal Air Force will also be sending the type from their home of RAF Brize Norton. With six countries providing aerial refuelling support across two bases, this will provide a significant boost to support capabilities compared to previous years.
Renowned for its performance in air superiority, the United States Air Force will send their F-15C Eagles to RAAF Base Darwin. Despite their introduction over 46 years ago, there are still some 225 F-15C/D aircraft in service with the USAF across the United States and Japan with United Kingdom bidding farewell to the Eagles in March this year.
Alongside the RAAF, the United States Marine Corps will be providing ‘red air’ at RAAF Base Tindal with their F-35B’s from one of two forward-based squadrons out of Iwakuni, Japan.
Other Participating Nations
Exercise Pitch Black also sees several other nations participating with ground-based assets or as observers. This year will see Canada, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand and the United Arab of Emirates joining the aforementioned countries above.
In addition to the three weeks of flying operations, the exercise will also host two community events with a flying display at Mindil Beach on Thursday the 25th of August and an open day at RAAF Base Darwin on Saturday the 27th of August.