Les Neistat’s Look at Pitch Black 2016

By: Category: AirshowsEventsMilitaryMilitary Exercise


Exercise Pitch Black 2016 is a three week bi-annual multi-national large force employment exercise which was conducted from RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal from 29 July to 19 August 2016. Exercise Pitch Black is to Australia, what Red Flag is to the USA. Major exercises such as Pitch Black are essential in ensuring that the Air Force remains ready to respond to threats whenever the RAAF is required by the Australian Government.

A flying display performed at Mindil Beach on 11 August, including a handling display by an Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet from 1 Squadron, also an international four-ship formation display consisting of a Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SG and F-16,and a RAAF F/A-18A Hornet and F/A-18F Super Hornet from 77 and 1 Squadrons and low level flypasts from a number of aircraft participating in the exercise – such as the RAAF C-17 Globemaster, an AP-3C Orion, a C 130J-30 Hercules and an Armee de l’Air CN-235.


A record crowd of more than 18,000 people were drawn to RAAF Base Darwin to get up close and personal with Australian and international military aircraft during the Exercise Pitch Black Open Day. Interactive exhibits, displays, rides and performances from the Air Force Band were just some of the attractions enjoyed by all ages at the free, family-friendly event. Both events were free for the community.

Exercise Pitch Black is a major boost for the Northern Territory economy. Pitch Black 2014 contributed $25 million to the local economy and this year’s exercise was expected to exceed that.

Exercise Pitch Black recognizes the strong relationship Australia has with its participant nations and the high value it places on regional security and fostering closer ties throughout the Asia Pacific region.
Aircraft arrived in the week prior to the start of the exercise and departed over the weekend following the exercise.

Up to 115 aircraft and 2,500 personnel from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and the U.S. participated in the three-week long exercise. Flying operations began with aircraft operating out of RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal in the Northern Territory to utilize the airspace over Bradshaw Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range to practice large formation offensive and counter air and offensive air support operations.

Some of the roles that were practiced during the exercise included air-to-air combat, air-to-ground attack, command and control, air-to-air refueling and tactical air transport, which involved day and night operations.


Fast jets participating in Pitch Black included Thai and Indonesian F-16As, Singaporean F-15SGs and F-16Ds, USAF F-16CJs and RAAF Hornets and Super Hornets. Transport aircraft include Canadian and USMC KC-130 Hercules tankers, a Royal Thai Air Force C-130H Hercules and a New Caledonian-based French air force CN-235. Additional tankers included the RAAF’s KC-30A tanker transport and Singaporean KC 135R. Support aircraft include a RAAF E-7A Wedgetail and a Singaporean Gulfstream G550 CAEW platform.

Most of these aircraft offer relatively new capabilities for possible coalition operations in the area, and looking ahead, the RAAF’s “standard” Hornets will slowly be replaced during the next three to four years with new F-35s, and new EA-18G Growlers are expected during 2017 too. There were a lot of opportunities for hone interoperability skills this year, and there’ll be more occasions to practice these skills while gaining experience with the new aircraft arrivals in the coming years too.


The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) deployed its largest ever contingent to date for Exercise ‘Pitch Black’ 2016. Senior Lieutenant Colonel David Lim, exercise director of the RSAF’s detachment, pointed out that the vast airspace over Bradshaw Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range, which equates to a total usable area of about 250 x 300 miles (402 x 482 km), is over three times larger than the RSAF’s usual 30 x 60 miles training airspace over the South China Sea.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-122 commenced air operations for Exercise Pitch Black 2016 alongside the Royal Australian Air Force at RAAF Base Tindal, Australia, Aug. 1, 2016. “We started out with dissimilar basic fighter maneuvers with the Royal Australian Air Force and the Republic of Singapore Air Force,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Luke Borgan, quality assurance officer and VMFA-122 pilot. “For an F-18 pilot, this is a dream place to fly. The weather this time of year and the range space is unbeatable. We can’t do training like this in Japan, so we’re taking advantage of the opportunity to maximize training.”


Whether it be a VMFA-122 F/A18C or Singapore’s F-16C/D, each nation involved in Pitch Black brought a unique capability affording the associated countries the opportunity to learn and understand each partner’s skills, preparing for real world situations and further strengthening the bonds of friendship.

Among the approximately 2,500 personnel and approximately 115 aircraft participating in Pitch Black, are members of Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 deployed from MCAS Iwakuni to support the flight operations of VMFA-122.

“VMFA-122 was honored and excited to participate in Pitch Black 16 with our counterparts,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Derek Brannon, commanding officer of VMFA-122. “The exercise allowed the Marines of Marine Aircraft Group-12 and VMFA-122 to gain a high level of training readiness by taking advantage of the integrated, large force events with our regional joint and coalition partners.”

Pitch Black gave the U.S. flying squadron a chance to employ all the training experience gained over the last six months of deployment in the Pacific, in a real world atmosphere with allied nations. “Pitch Black 16 provided us an opportunity to develop and validate operational concepts for conducting sustained contingency and combat operations around the world,” said Brannon. “Simply put, Pitch Black 16 was the culminating event for VMFA-122’s deployment and had lasting effects on the squadron’s combat readiness.”


THE RAAF Air Force conducted a three day media embed program at RAAF Base Darwin from Wednesday, August 10th to Friday, August 12th.

Media (PHXSpotters) were provided access to RAAF capabilities and some international elements.


PHX Spotters were fortunate enough and very grateful to be invited to fly on a 33 Squadron RAAF KC-30, a MRTT ( Multi Role Transport Tanker) media flight to witness air-to-air refueling F-16CJs from the “Samurais” – from the 14th Fighter Squadron of the USAF’s 35th Fighter Wing, and the RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornets of Number 1 and 6 Squadrons. Approximately fifteen million litres of fuel was burned during the entire exercise, including some of it delivered in the air. We were also treated to a very nice lunch onboard between refueling stints.

I personally and representing PHX Spotters am truly grateful to the RAAF personal and Media team as well as the International participants for their hospitality in making us welcome.

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